August 7, 2008

Most Holy Trinity Church

Most Holy Trinity Church, Montrose Avenue
William Schickel, architect
Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Gowanus Lounge had a post a week or two back about Holy Trinity Cemetery, a small German Catholic cemetery in Bushwick (next door to the larger Cemetery of the Evergreens). The cemetery was originally located behind Most Holy Trinity Church, in Williamsburg.

Now known as Most Holy Trinity and St. Mary*, the parish was originally founded as the German Church of the Holy Trinity in 1841. It was the first National parish in the Brooklyn diocese, and the first German Catholic Church in Williamsburg. It was also the mother church for a host of other German parishes over time. Holy Trinity was founded by Father John Raffeiner, a wealthy doctor-turned-priest from Austria. Raffeiner came to the United States in 1833, settling in New York where, in 1836, he founded St. Nicholas Church on East 2nd Street (the oldest German church in the New York Diocese). Raffeiner is also credited with establishing a German parish in Boston during this period. In 1841, Raffeiner moved to Williamsburg, a village that at the time was seeing a huge influx of German emigrés. There, largely with his own funds, the priest purchased property on Montrose Avenue from Abraham Meserole.

The first church of Most Holy Trinity was a frame structure, completed in 1841. A rectory was constructed in 1844. In 1853, the parish constructed a new church building on the corner of Montrose and Graham (it was for that church that the parish's cemetery was moved). Between 1863 and 1871, Holy Trinity's parish boundaries were divided numerous times - yielding Annunciation (1863), St. Nicholas (1865), All Saints (1867) and St. Leonard's (1872) parishes. Still, the original Holy Trinity parish continued to grow, and in 1880, construction began on a new church (on the site of the original frame church). The cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1882, and the building was completed in 1885. The new church was constructed of Belleville (N.J.) brownstone, with two towers of 250' each and a 70' tall nave (the spires, also constructed of brownstone, were covered in lead sheets in 1990).

The architect for the new church was William Schickel. Schickel was active in the late 19th century; he designed a number of churches and German-related structures in New York and Brooklyn. Among his more prominent works are the Century Building on Union Square (now home to a Barnes & Noble), the Freie Bibliothek und Lesehalle on Second Avenue (now the Ottendorfer branch of NYPL) and, next door, the German Poliklinik (now the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital)

Betty Smith (née Elisabeth Wehner), author of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" was baptized at Holy Trinity in 1897. In her novel, the church is described as "the most beautiful in Brooklyn... it was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements".

The parish's property encompasses much of the block bounded by Graham, Johnson, Manhattan and Montrose. It includes the former Catholic Orphan Asylum on Graham Avenue (erected between 1865 and 1885), two school buildings, a rectory and a faculty residence. The rectory which appears to have been constructed in 1872 (Joseph Berendach, architect), is located immediately east of the church. The elementary school is located to the east of the rectory; constructed in 1888, it was, prior to its closing in 2005, the oldest parish school in Brooklyn. The high school, which closed in 1972, was located on Johnson Avenue. In the 1880s, the church's two schools enrolled 1,600 students. The faculty residence, at the corner of Montrose and Manhattan, was designed by Beatty and Berlenbach in 1952. In addition to the buildings on its block, Holy Trinity was responsible for the construction of the original St. Catherine's Hospital, on Bushwick and Devoe.

Most Holy Trinity & St. Mary Church is just one of many significant remnants of Williamsburg's German past. The building itself, together with its associated structures, is a landmark in every sense of the word. With the recent merger of Most Holy Trinity and St. Mary, MHT's might seem secure. But its roll of parishioners (now almost exclusively Hispanic) continues to dwindle, and most of its associated structures sit vacant. With any luck, the rectory, elementary school, asylum and faculty residence will find new and compatible uses.

*Most Holy Trinity merged with Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in 2007. St. Mary's was founded in 1841 as an Irish church, and was located at Leonard and Maujer Streets.

Most Holy Trinity - St. Mary: History
Most Holy Trinity - St. Mary: Tour of the Church
New York Architecture Images
BushwickBK - Bushwick Geographic: Most Holy Trinity Cemetery
Smith, Betty A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
"Five Years in Building: The New and Handsome Church for German Catholics in Williamsbug." New York Times, August 24, 1885, page 8.
100th Year Marked by Brooklyn Church." New York Times, October 13, 1941, page 12.
"Catholicism: A Significant Page of Local History." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 1, 1877, page 4.
"Local Improvements." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1872, page 3.
"A New Parochial School." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1888, page 6.
"Building Plans Filed." New York Times, June 23, 1952, page 32.

More photos after the jump...

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September 16, 2008

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church.
View from South 5th Street over the BQE.
Photo: WPA

Today, we continue our intermittent series on the churches of north Brooklyn. You might remember that a few weeks ago we wrote about Most Holy Trinity Church on Montrose. This week we are highlighting another German congregation - St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran on South 5th and Rodney. If you take the J/M/Z, you will recognize it immediately (particularly if you wait for the train at the Marcy Avenue stop). Theology aside, St. Paul's has a lot in common with Holy Trinity: both were founded as German congregations; both are among the oldest congregations in Williamsburg; both buildings date to the 1880s; and both buildings were designed by prominent New York City architects. At St. Paul, the architect was J. C. Cady (who designed the American Museum of Natural History, among many others). And in this case, the architect was responsible for the entire complex of buildings - church, rectory and parish house.

St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is located on the corner of South Fifth Street and Rodney (formerly Ninth) Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The complex of buildings, which includes the Church, Sunday School and Parsonage, were constructed in 1884-85 to the designs of J. C. Cady & Company. The buildings were designed in the Romanesque style and constructed of Holland and Philadelphia brick with terra cotta and brownstone trim.

Check out the full history after the jump

Continue reading "St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church" »

September 23, 2008

Bay Ridge U. M. C.

Photo: Forgotten NY

It would appear that the fate of Bay Ridge's Green Church has been sealed - and its not a pretty fate. After much back and forth, the church has officially obtained demolition permits. Next up, a dumpster and a Bricolage design (the former is probably the nobler fate; Dante has a circle for the latter). And then a seven-story condo. The church already been picked over by Olde Good Things, so presumably all that is left is the shell and the stuff that won't sell on 24th Street.

The church is officially known as Bay Ridge (or Grace) United Methodist Church, and was constructed in 1899 to the designs of George W. Kramer. It was much beloved, and there was a lot of support within the community to preserve the structure (almost 1,200 residents signed petitions to support saving the church). The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, but NYC Landmarks has refused to consider designation. This is an all-too-familiar scenario, particularly when it comes to churches. Despite the fact that most churches have clear social and cultural significance to their communities (significance that often extends beyond their own congregation or denomination), and despite the fact that many churches (like Green Church) are architecturally significant, there is clearly an unwillingness on the part of LPC to individually designate churches. Most churches in NYC that are protected by LPC are protected because they fall within historic districts, not because LPC has found them significant in their own right.

The sad part of all this is that there are often viable redevelopment options that can retain the historic churches. Yes, these options usually result in less profit than demolition, but the benefits to the community are clear. And in most cases, the developers wind up using the history of the buildings as a selling point. In Brooklyn, there are at least two recent examples - the Sanctuary in Fort Greene (formerly Our Lady of Pilar R.C. Chapel), and the former St. Peter Church on Hicks Street in Cobble Hill.

In the past few weeks, we have highlighted two of the many churches in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint (we have a lot more coming). Holy Trinity Church, on Montrose, was constructed in 1884; St. Paul's Lutheran Church on Rodney, was constructed in 1882. Both parishes date to the 1840s - Holy Trinity is the second oldest Catholic congregation in North Brooklyn, and the oldest national parish in all of Brooklyn; St. Paul's Lutheran is the second oldest Lutheran congregation in North Brooklyn, and the oldest extant. Both buildings were constructed by prominent and accomplished architects of their time - William Schickel in the case of Holy Trinity; J. C. Cady in the case of St. Paul's. Both churches are also significant reminders of the ascendency of the German immigrant population in North Brooklyn in the mid to late 19th Century. Despite all of this history, and the clear architectural significance of these two buildings, the likelihood of them becoming landmarks is pretty slim - nonexistent if the churches themselves object. And yet objectively, both churches are clearly worthy of serious consideration for designation as individual landmarks. We suspect the same was true of Green Church.

October 22, 2008

McCaddin Memorial to Reopen for Opera Performance

McCaddin Memorial, Berry Street.

McCaddin Memorial Hall is the large yellow brick building on Berry between South 2nd and South 3rd. It is part of the complex of building on that block that belong to the Ss. Peter and Paul parish (the second oldest Catholic parish in Brooklyn). Historically, it served as the school building for Ss. Peter and Paul's parochial school (author Henry Miller was one of its students); lately it has housed a Head Start program, but little else. Which is a shame, since at the center of the building is the 600-seat auditorium seen below.

Now, production company OperaOggiNY is reopening the hall for a performance of L'Oracolo, a one-act verismo opera by Franco Leoni.

A 600 seat, "theater" complete with 50 foot proscenium arch raked stage and a balcony, plenty of fly space with classic brick and wood and plaster construction has been found and is about to be opened to the public by a collaboration between OperaOggiNY and the St. Peter and Paul parish.

Rehearsals, started this week, are already bringing serious opera back to the theater. With Music Director, Bill Lewis, (coach to none other than the Met's Marcello Giordani and accompanist to all of Ronan Tynan's appearances) as part of the mix, these two very serious performers are preparing L'Oracolo, by Leone. Although presented within the last 2 years in a concert version in Manhattan, this is the first time that the work has been staged in an extremely long time. This one act verismo opera. composed by Leoni, who was a student with Puccini and part of Ponchielli's studio, will not disappoint. Set in San Francisco's China Town, cerca 1900, it was all the rage at the Met while Antonio Scotti was a star.

When: Nov. 6, 7, 8. (all at 8pm)
Where: Henry McCaddin Hall 288 Berry Street, Williamsburg
Cost: Admission: $20 dollars.

McCaddin Memorial auditorium.
Photo: via NAG

[Via NAG]

November 1, 2008

More on the McCaddin Opera

CityRoom has a lot more detail on the OpperaOggiNY production coming to McCaddin Memorial Hall next week.

December 1, 2008

New York on the Block

In today's Post, Julia Vitullo-Martin (who, it should be remembered, wrote an op-ed against the landmarking of Austin Nichols) pens a nice piece in favor of more landmarking in general. In addition to Carroll Gardens, Vitullo-Martin calls out houses of worship for special attention. This is something we have been paying particular attention to.

Special bonus - a slide show of 10 endangered buildings worth saving.

Eberhard Faber