Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.
The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.
Address: 4200 4th Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd Streets (including the elementary school)
Name: St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Romanesque with Byzantine style dome and ornament
Architect: Raymond F. Almirall
Why chosen: St. Michael’s tower rises over Sunset Park, and can be seen for miles around, and until recently, was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Raymond F. Almirall, the architect, studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and the church dome is reminiscent of the Byzantine style domes of Sacre Coeur, in Montmartre, which was built in 1884. Most descriptions of this church call the dome a beehive, or a bishop’s mitre, and it seems to be unique, among all the many houses of worship in the borough. A look at the archive photo below shows that there were originally four smaller domes surrounding the main spire and dome. Too bad they are no longer there, they might have halted some of the less flattering things said about this campanile. Almirall is an important NYC architect of the Beaux-Arts period, at the beginning of the 20th century. His Brooklyn works include the original design for the main branch of the Bklyn Public Library, which was later built on his foundation and side walls, the Bushwick branch, and three other branches of the library, which were funded by Andrew Carnegie, and Public Bath No. 7, also on 4th Avenue. In Manhattan, he is best known for his Emigrant Savings Bank building, now offices, and the Boss Tweed Courthouse, both magnificent examples of Beaux-Arts, City Beautiful architecture. Sunset Park has always been an immigrant neighborhood, growing in the mid-1800’s through a large influx of Irish, Polish, Norwegian and Finnish immigrants. The parish of St. Michael’s was established in 1870 by poor Irish immigrants who mostly worked in non-skilled manual labor jobs in the shipyards and industrial areas near the docks. By the turn of the century, the Irish population in Sunset Park had grown in numbers, and their success in America had afforded many members the affluence to see to the establishment of four local churches. St. Michael’s had grown in numbers and wealth, as well, and had this new church built in 1905. While the nearby Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help may be much larger, this church is still the iconic presence in Sunset Park.