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Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 1173-1179 Bushwick Avenue
Cross Streets: Cornelia Street and Jefferson Avenue
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: 1880
Architectural Style: Transitional Italianate/Neo-Grec
Architect: Thomas F. Houghton
Other works by architect: St. Agnes Catholic Church and school, Carroll Gardens; Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Stuyvesant Heights; St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Park Slope. Also row houses and other buildings in Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights North, and elsewhere
Landmarked: No

The story: At first glance, these transitional Italianate and Neo-Grec homes are just another group of four modest brownstones. But here, as in all of his work, architect Thomas Houghton created beauty in the details.

These four houses were designed by one of the East Coast’s premiere Catholic Church architects, best known for his churches here in Brooklyn, Manhattan and in Massachusetts.

Houghton learned from the best of the best, Patrick Keely, and became part of the family by marrying the boss’s daughter.

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Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally St. Agnes Catholic School, now apartments
Address: 421 DeGraw Street
Cross Streets: Hoyt and Bond Streets
Neighborhood: Technically Gowanus, although most consider it to be in Carroll Gardens
Year Built: 1898-1900
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Original building by Thomas Houghton. Apartment conversion by Grasso-Menziuso Architects, PC.
Other works by architect: Houghton: Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Stuyvesant Heights; St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Park Slope; Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Fort Greene, row houses in Stuyvesant Heights, and more. Grasso-Menziuso: Schools, institutional buildings, many new and rehabbed affordable housing projects in New York and several other cities.
Landmarked: No

The story: During the 19th century, South Brooklyn developed as an industrial hub, with the factories and plants in Gowanus on one side and the Red Hook docks and manufacturing facilities on the other.

Industry is nothing without a ready work force. Developers built up the residential streets in between and in the surrounding neighborhoods, and workers quickly moved in.

A vast majority of those workers were Catholics, first the Irish, then Italians, Poles, and much later, Spanish-speaking Catholics. The Irish community petitioned the Church for their own neighborhood parish, and in 1878, the first Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Laughlin, instituted the parish of St. Agnes here, with Father James Duffy as its first pastor. A wooden church was built on the corner of Hoyt and DeGraw.

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Although Brooklyn is known as the “Borough of Churches,” Queens is no slouch in that category either. Spires, steeples, minarets and domes accentuate the streetscape in just about every part of Queens. Each one is a marker for the vast amount of history and culture that they represent. Many of these houses of worship are also fine examples of 19th and 20th century architecture, the product of imagination and talent. Many architects specialized in sacred buildings, others created them along with many other kinds of architecture. Some of these architects had great faith themselves, and it shows in the details of the buildings they created. St. Mary’s Catholic Church was designed by one of those faithful men, an architect of prodigious talent and a huge body of work to his name. He was Patrick Charles Keely, and St. Mary’s is but one of hundreds of churches he designed in his long career.

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Queens is home to several colleges, but none have the national and international reputation of St. John’s University, in Jamaica. Many distinguished alumni have passed through its gates over the years, including Mario Cuomo, Ray Kelly, Charles Rangel, William Casey, the former head of the CIA, and Hugh Carey, who like Mario Cuomo, was the Governor of New York State. They top a list of distinguished political figures, banking heads, sports figures and business executives. Everyone in New York City has heard of St. John’s basketball and other sports teams, all called the Red Storm, but very few people know that the university got its start as a small college for the children of Irish and Italian immigrants in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

The College of St. John the Baptist was founded by the Vincentian Fathers in 1868. The order had been invited to open the school at the invitation of Bishop John Laughlin, the first Bishop of the Dioceses of Brooklyn. The population of Catholics in Brooklyn was growing by leaps and bounds, creating a need for higher educational opportunities for immigrant children, specifically boys, who could not afford the existing private schools and colleges. He wanted to establish a school for the poor Catholic boys of Brooklyn, where they could receive a fine education and moral training.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 257 Clermont Avenue
Cross Streets: Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1867
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Perhaps Michael Murray, who built almost identical houses next door at same time
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene HD (1978)

The story: This house is your typical Italianate brownstone, so familiar to Fort Greene. It was built in 1867, along with its twin, 259. The houses were also built at the same time as the group on the other side; these constructed by a local builder and named Michael Murray. All of them share the same cornices, shelf lintels, “eyebrow” lintels and other details. They differ only in the floral ornamentation on the brackets that support the front entrance pediment.

No sooner than the house was completed, the owner, local landowner Maria Spader sold the house to Patrick C. Keely, probably the most important architect in Catholic America. Keely was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1816, and came to the United States when he was about 24 or 25 years old. His father had been a builder and architect, and Keely got his training from him, aiding his father in design and construction of church buildings in Ireland.

Keely settled in Brooklyn, where he worked as a carpenter and wood carver. He was very talented, and also very devoted to the Church, with many friends in the clergy. One of them, Rev. Sylvester Malone, asked Keely to design the new church he had just been assigned to; the Church of Sts Peter and Paul, in Williamsburg. This would be Keely’s first commission, which put him on the path to many, many more.