Building of the Day: 24 Fourth Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal)
Address: 24 Fourth Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Pacific Street
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1866
Architectural Style: Gothic Revival
Architect: Patrick C. Keely
Other Buildings by Architect: in Brooklyn – St. John the Baptist School and Church, Bed Stuy. St. Boniface, Downtown Bklyn. St. Charles Borromeo, Brooklyn Heights, and more.
Landmarked: No, but should be somehow, either individually or part of a HD.

The story: The history of any place is greatly written by the houses of worship that have been built there. This is especially true in Brooklyn, where the story of immigration can be tracked by the churches, synagogues and mosques along the way. By the 1850’s, Brooklyn was growing rapidly outward from the Fulton Ferry and the riverfront, and the city had reached the Times Plaza area, a part of town that would become a nexus of transportation and commerce in the years to come. By 1853, however, it was the edge of the neighborhood of Boerum Hill.

The Episcopalian community worshiping at St. Peter’s Church on State Street, near Bond, was getting too large by the 1850’s, and a group split away to found the Church of the Redeemer, in 1853. They met in a hall on Fulton Street until they were able to purchase a plot of land on the corner of Pacific and 4th Avenue, and set about building a chapel, the first step to a much larger church to be built later. But early on, they but lost a great deal of frontage when 4th Ave was widened to its present width in 1865, so as plans were being re-evaluated, the Byzantine style chapel, designed by G. Wheeler, went up at the back of the lot.

This chapel could only hold around 500 people, and the church soon was overflowing, so it became necessary to build the main church as rapidly as possible. They hired Patrick C. Keely, the “The Prince of American Catholic architects”, to design the church. This would be one of the few non-Catholic churches that Kelley would design. High Church Episcopalian church architecture is almost indistinguishable from Catholic, so Keely was not working outside of his comfort zone here.

This son of a carpenter and builder, himself also a carpenter, builder and self-trained architect, was an Irish-born immigrant who came to America in 1842. He would design more than 600 churches and church buildings in his career, more than anyone in the United States, before or since. Most of them were very good. He arrived on the scene when the Catholic Church, as well as other denominations, was growing faster than the church buildings could accommodate them.

The church Keely designed for Redeemer was an English Gothic style church, large, yet intimate and sturdy, built of bluestone with sandstone trim. A classic cross-shaped church, it has a nave, aisles, chancel, and recesses on both sides for the choirs and the organ. The altar was an elaborate Gothic one, carved in Caen marble, and the chancel and other furniture was of black walnut. The church cost a little over $30,000 to build, not a small sum in those days.

Outside, twin buttresses support the church, which has beautiful stained glass windows underneath the slate roofs, and the shingled walls of the upper story. It’s really a beautiful, rugged church, and Keely captured the Episcopalian spirit of its design perfectly. The Brooklyn Eagle tells us that in its cornerstone lies a Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Episcopalian journals of the day, all placed there in a ceremony that took place in 1865.

Today, the church has held up well, especially with the subway right underneath, and construction all around it for the last 100 years. The rough-hewn bluestone has taken on the grittiness of this busy corner, as Brooklyn literally mushroomed around it. Often overlooked in the hodgepodge of great and banal architecture in the area, the Church of the Redeemer deserves a special look. It’s a beauty. GMAP

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2012

Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Altar. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Organ, walnut woodwork of interior. Photo: nycago.org

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