St. Rita Church to be Razed, Replaced
Plan includes $20 million senior living complex on Lower East Side.
St. Rita of Cascia, a 1936 Roman Catholic church building at 1601 N. Cass St. would be razed and replaced with a new building, according to plans announced Monday at the site, part of the Three Holy Women Parish.
The new facility, with about 3,600 square feet of worship space, sacristy and parish offices on the first floor, and with fellowship space and a kitchen below, would be developed by Tarantino & Company and sold to the parish for $1. The firm would partner with the parish to construct St. Rita’s Square, a $20 million senior living community with 29 independent living apartments, 48 assisted living units and 26 memory care units, along with 2,800 square feet of retail space at the northeast corner of N. Van Buren and E. Pleasant streets.
The senior living community would also have enclosed parking for 44 vehicles and indoor and outdoor bicycle parking, and would be connected to the church. It would be operated by Capri Senior Communities, a sister corporation founded by developer James A. Tarantino, whose roots with the parish go back more than a generation.
In addition to the existing church, an adjoining vacant school and former convent would be razed, along with the former Rectory for the church, which was converted into four apartments by Brian Glassel in 2010 and is currently assessed at $456,000. A portion of the alley that runs from E. Pleasant to E. Brady streets would be vacated. The site is approximately 1.1 acres.
Inside the Former Convent
New Church Honors Lost Landmark
The current St. Rita’s church is a minimalist structure with Art Deco elements. The church floor is not handicap accessible, and is located on the second floor of the building above a raised basement used for parish activities, including a Spaghetti Dinner held on Sunday, after the plans were announced to parishoners at mass.
The new building will be fully compliant, and have elevator access between the floors. But instead of paying tribute to the current St. Rita’s, Tarantino’s architects, including AG Architecture, plan to construct a new building reminiscent of the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii, razed for freeway construction in 1967 and fondly remembered by the Italian community as “The Little Pink Church.” Artifacts from the Virgin of Pompeii have been lovingly tended by the Italian societies for the past decade and constitute a popular display at Festa Italiana, to be held this year from July 21st-23rd.
St. Rita’s, established as a mission outpost of the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church in 1925, became the defacto Sicilian community parish after the destruction of its predecessor.
Some of the artifacts from the old pink church as well as others from St. Rita’s will be incorporated into the new pink church, along with what is said to be the original iron bell of The Virgin of Pompeii, now installed at the Italian Community Center.
Mayor Tom Barrett spoke at the event held to announce the plans, and offered his now-common refrain that cities always change, but Milwaukee has never in our lifetimes seen the changes underway at this time.
Rev. Tim Kitzke, the church’s pastor for the past 18 years, recalled his early days when the parish and neighborhood were in a slump. Funerals far exceeded baptisms at his parish at the time, with the reverse being true today. He said he found great support from parish members when he made the announcement yesterday.
Ald. Nik Kovac joked that although he was raised Catholic and received his First Communion at Holy Rosary Church, this will not exempt St. Rita’s from making a public presentation of the development for neighbors. This is his custom whenever a zoning change or public funding is requested for a project. The date has not been set, he said, but the event will take place nearby, most likely at the church itself.
The senior housing component is welcome news for the Lower East Side, and for those who will be occupants. The facility is just one block from the Pick ‘N Save grocery store and East Pointe Commons shops, and also a block from Brady Street and its attractions, including Glorioso’s Italian Market. Many of the residents who stuck through their neighborhood during rough times will likely prefer to remain there as they age.
Last Year for Community Garden
This will be the final growing season for the Community Garden at St. Rita’s. The garden, planted in 2009, occupies a former lawn in front of and behind the former Convent building. Volunteers raised over 1,000 pounds of produce for the Riverwest Food Pantry in the garden in 2016. The garden also receives over 1,000 pounds of coffee grounds annually to be composted from the nearby Y-NOT II Coffeetails. (Full Disclosure: I haul them there myself.)
Discussions are underway to find replacement plots for the garden on the Lower East Side, with Riverview public housing and the green strip surrounding the Cass St. playground being suggested.
A “Feed for Seeds” fundraiser for the garden will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6th at the Y-NOT II, 706 E. Lyon St. A similar event last year raised over $700 for the garden.
A high point of the event: The amusing and talented “One Keyboard, Two Queens and a Whole Lot of Vodka,” will perform live at 3 p.m.