Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio, left, with community activist Beverly...

Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio, left, with community activist Beverly Dean, and Butch Murray, president of the Greater Gordon Heights Civic Association, at St. Michael's Recreation Center. Credit: Barry Sloan

In its 75-year history, St. Michael's Recreation Center in Gordon Heights has served a wide variety of roles for residents of the small Brookhaven Town hamlet.

Originally St. Michael's Church when it opened in 1949, it was a worship space for West Indian immigrants until a 1969 fire.

Since 1970, it has been a town community center with after-school programs and, for a time, a summer camp. Among the kids who shot hoops on the backyard basketball court was a future rap star, the late Biz Markie.

It was even a bank — hosting a local credit union that offered savings accounts and low-interest loans to local residents.

And now St. Michael's has a new title: town landmark. 

The designation — approved 7-0 on Thursday by the Brookhaven Town Board — ensures the 2,000-square-foot structure on Wilson Avenue will be there for future residents of the predominantly Black hamlet, residents and town officials said.

"We wanted to make sure it stayed as a monument to people who went there” as parishioners, campers and after-school program participants, said Beverly Dean, 72, a Gordon Heights resident and community activist. “It is definitely a symbol of Gordon Heights."

The former church joins other town landmarks such as the Swan River School House in East Patchogue, Roe Tavern in East Setauket and Mary E. Bell House in Center Moriches.

About 56% of Gordon Heights' population of 4,466 is Black, 20% is Hispanic and 14% is white, according to 2022 U.S. Census figures.

St. Michael's traces its roots to the 1940s, when West Indian immigrants began holding Episcopal church services in private homes or outdoors beneath a tarp, Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell said. The sanctuary was built in 1948 and dedicated the following year, town records show.

Episcopal Diocese of Long Island records show the church, officially known as the Mission of St. Michael and All Angels, was partly destroyed by fire in 1969 and closed on Oct. 7, 1970. Members of the church joined nearby congregations in Selden and Medford, church records show. 

Russell said the diocese transferred St. Michael's to the town, which restored the building and reopened it as a community center. Since then, it has hosted senior citizens clubs, community meetings and after-school and weekend programs for children, including classes that teach cooking, arts and crafts, personal finance and job search skills.

Children from the programs have become lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers and police officers, Dean said.

“Every child has a connection to this building,” said Butch Murray, president of the Greater Gordon Heights Civic Association. “St. Michael’s is a place that raised the children of the community, and they go on to do bigger and better things.”

Biz Markie, who grew up in Patchogue and Wyandanch, and was best known for his 1989 single "Just A Friend," was among the kids who played basketball at St. Michael's, Murray recalled. Markie, whose real name was Marcel Theo Hall, died in 2021. 

Brookhaven held annual summer camps at St. Michael's in the 1970s that hosted dozens of kids before the program was discontinued.

One of those summer campers was Melanie Cardone-Leathers, who grew up in Gordon Heights and now serves as the local history director of the Longwood Public Library.

“We did your normal summer camp stuff," said Cardone-Leathers, 47, who now lives in Ridge. "I just remember sitting, talking with friends and going in the pool. … It was someplace to be instead of sitting at home.”

The former church played an important role in the community in all its iterations, Cardone-Leathers said. In the 1980s, the Gordon Heights Credit Union, a small bank operated by local residents, used the building once or twice a week, she and Dean said. The bank closed in the 1990s, Dean, said, adding she didn't know why. 

The bank provided loans to homeowners and allowed children to open their first bank accounts for an initial deposit of $5, Dean said, adding it taught kids "financial responsibility."

St. Michael's is structurally sound and was in no danger of being torn down, Brookhaven Councilman Michael Loguercio said.

But after seeing other local structures collapse or get demolished due to age, Dean and others wanted to ensure St. Michael's did not meet the same fate.

She hopes the town and community will find additional uses for St. Michael's — such as expanded computer classes that help connect children and grandparents across the digital divide.

“We’ll always have this building. It means so much to the community," Dean said. "There’s so much love in this building.”

History of St. Michael's Recreation Center in Gordon Heights

1946: Episcopal congregation begins holding services in private homes and outdoors

1948: Construction begins on St. Michael's Church on Wilson Avenue

April 9, 1949: Church dedicated and opened

1969: Fire partly destroys sanctuary, church closes

1971: Property transferred to Brookhaven Town

1973: Reopened as recreation center

SOURCE: Brookhaven Town, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

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