Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally Christ Church Chapel, now Red Hook Pentecostal Holiness Church
Address: 110 Wolcott Street
Cross Streets: Van Brunt and Conover Streets
Neighborhood: Red Hook
Year Built: 1899
Architectural Style: Romanesque/Gothic Revival
Architect: W. & G. Audsley
Other Buildings by Architect: Prince’s Road Synagogue, Liverpool, England. Also Bowling Green Offices, Manhattan, (NYC Landmark) and the Church of Edward the Confessor in Philadelphia.
Landmarked: No, but should be.
The story: Few cities in the world are as blessed with as much great natural harbor space as New York City. When the Red Hook coastline of Brooklyn became one of the busiest ports in the metropolitan area, blocks of houses and tenements were built to house all of the people who made their living from the docks or the many factories and warehouses spreading out and away from the shore. Most of the inhabitants were the working poor, struggling to survive on the low wages and long hours required to keep their jobs. They certainly did not have the resources or time to build fine institutions for worship or education.
The churches in the more established areas of Brooklyn, in nearby Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, saw Red Hook as a field full of souls ready for harvest. There were both spiritual and physical needs to be met there, so many of Brooklyn’s churches established mission churches in Red Hook. One of them was established by Christ Church, the venerable Episcopalian Church on the corner of Clinton and Harrison Streets in Cobble Hill.
Christ Church opened its Red Hook Mission in the 1866. It built the first Christ Church Chapel at this location in 1868. The pastor of Christ Church, Rev. Eli Canfield, personally donated $3,000 to the cause, an unprecedented gift. The congregation of the chapel grew to some 400 congregants with over 800 people enrolled in the Sunday school. The parishioners themselves followed up by buying the land behind the chapel, and presented it to the mother church, suggesting that they build a large parish hall and Sunday school. In 1890, that new building was finished, and opened to serve the congregation. Unfortunately, that building no longer stands today.
By the late 1890s, the original chapel was too small and getting rickety, with cracked beams and sinking floors. It was only 30-some years old, so sometimes they didn’t build well in the old days. The church decided to build a larger and better chapel. The old building was torn down, and the new chapel’s cornerstone was laid in 1899. While the new chapel was being constructed, services were held in the large Sunday school building.
The architects of the project were a Manhattan-based firm of two brothers; William James Audsley and his younger brother, George Ashdown Audsley. The pair were born and educated in Scotland. Afterward their schooling, they were a prolific design team in Liverpool, where they designed ten churches and synagogues in the Gothic Revival style. Both brothers were brilliant illustrators and artists. George co-authored and illustrated several books which are still in print, including “The Keramic Art of Japan,” one of the most important books on Japanese art in the English language.
In 1884, William came to America, and settled in New York, and put out his shingle. George settled in a suburb of London where he built his home, complete with a pipe organ that he had designed himself. The organ was a favorite of composer Camille Saint-Saëns. He tried to establish himself as an organ designer and illustrator, but he had little success. In 1892 he joined his brother in New York.
The brothers reopened their practice together and received their first commission; the Bowling Green Offices, which they completed in 1896. It was the largest office building in New York City when it was built, and is still standing, a New York City Landmark. They went on to design two Catholic schools, a library in Norwalk, CT, and a church in Philadelphia, as well as this chapel. George was asked to design the world’s largest organ for the St. Louis Exhibition in 1904. After the fair, the organ was sold to the John Wanamaker Store in Philadelphia, and is now known as the Wanamaker Organ.
The attractive new chapel was consecrated in 1900. At some point in the 20th century, the congregation split from Christ Church, and became the Church of the Holy Child Jesus, still Episcopalian. But by the 1970s, changing demographics caused the congregation to either disband or merge with another church. The building was sold to a Pentecostal church called the Red Hook Pentecostal Holiness Church. The Audsley church is a beautiful building, with an especially nice rose stained glass window. The church is now surrounded by a combination of new and old housing.
(Photo: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark)