Building of the Day: 131 Arlington Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally Trinity Episcopal Church, now St. Joseph’s Anglican Church
Address: 131 Arlington Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Schenck Avenue
Neighborhood: Cypress Hills/Highland Park
Year Built: 1886
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Richard M. Upjohn
Other buildings by architect: St. George Episcopal Church, Bedford Stuyvesant; St. Paul’s Church, Carroll Gardens. Other churches in the U.S., as well as the Connecticut State Capitol Building in Hartford.
Landmarked: No

The story: For most New Yorkers who love church architecture, or the history of the city, Trinity Episcopal Church is the name of architect Richard Upjohn’s masterpiece in Lower Manhattan, one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the city. This church, of the same name, has both a Manhattan and an Upjohn connection. From lower Broadway to far off Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, that’s a long connection. Here’s the story:

Brooklyn’s Trinity Church was founded as a mission church of Manhattan’s Trinity Church. The man behind it was Lyman Cobb, Senior, the author of Cobb’s Speller and other school books. The year was 1850. This neighborhood was a small town unto itself — at the time, part of New Lots, and Cobb and others at Trinity felt it was time for an Episcopal church to join the Dutch Reformed and other churches in the area. It became an official parish in 1854.

The first Trinity was a former Dutch Reformed Church building which had been purchased until funds could be raised for a new church. In 1885, the lots upon which the church currently stands were purchased from the Rapplye family, one of Brooklyn’s oldest families, who once owned much of Flatbush and beyond.

The commission for the church was given to Richard M. Upjohn, the son of Richard Upjohn, the architect of Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Richard M. joined his father’s practice in 1853, and soon became an established and accomplished architect in his own right. He’s remembered, like his father, for his churches, although both of them designed other buildings as well. We are fortunate to have at least three Upjohn Junior churches in Brooklyn: St. George’s in Bedford Stuyvesant, St. Paul’s in Carroll Gardens, and this church, the least known of the three.

The church was consecrated in 1886, but soon needed more room, and Upjohn designed an addition of north and south transepts in 1890. In 1920, the basement was excavated and expanded for a parish hall, kitchen and other rooms. The original bell tower has been abbreviated over the years, as can be seen in the period postcards. Bell towers are always precarious and the first thing to go, as they are not structural.

In 1980, this church as well others across the country split from the Episcopal Church Association and formed the American Episcopal Church. The mother organization was seen by many as too liberal and going in directions they deemed unacceptable. The new affiliation prompted a new name, and the church is now St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.

I viewed this church on a walking tour sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society of Cypress Hills/Highland Park last fall. Services had recently ended, and the organist, who is also the church’s archivist, graciously allowed us inside to look around. It’s a beautiful church, which like most parishes these days, is struggling financially to do very necessary repairs. We gave what advice we could (Sacred Sites, etc.) and took up an offering. It wasn’t much, but it was greatly appreciated. GMAP

1905 Postcard: East New York Project

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