Building of the Day: 401-403 Atlantic Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Belarusan Autocephalic Orthodox Church, aka St. Cyril of Turau Cathedral
Address: 401-403 Atlantic Avenue
Cross Street: Corner of Bond St.
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1902
Architectural Style: Simplified Gothic
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: This church has been hiding something: its age! I was very surprised to learn that this building, which could easily be seen as being one of the oldest on Atlantic Avenue, dating back to the mid 1800’s, is actually only 109 years old, built only in the beginning of the last century. Not surprisingly, it sits on the location of an earlier church, built in the 1850’s.

At that time, Atlantic Avenue was as bustling as it is now. Businesses located near the waterfront were home to maritime businesses, storefronts near this address home to upscale retail shops of all kinds. Then, as now, the area was near a busy transportation hub, and the nearby neighborhood of Boerum Hill was home to upper middle, and middle-class merchants, trades and craftsmen. This location was prime for a community house of worship. In 1850, this address was home to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. They didn’t stay long, as in 1857; the building was sold to the Reformed Presbyterians, and in 1863 became the Second United Presbyterian Church. They would occupy the building until 1902, when the cornerstone for this building was laid.

In 1950, the church was sold to a group of Belarusan immigrants, looking to establish a church home, after fleeing the Soviet takeover of their country after World War II. The building had been empty for a number of years, had no heat, no insulation, and needed many repairs. A group of about 70 Belarusans bought the building, and renovated it themselves, at their own expense, repairing the entire building, and modifying the interior to their needs. It was renamed St. Cyril of Turau Cathedral, named after St. Cyril, a Belarusan bishop from the 12th century, who is considered to be that nation’s greatest early writer and poet. Today the church is also home to many outside uses; as a concert and meeting space for the entire community.

The building has a wonderful simplicity to it. Simple buttresses on the side, with elegant Gothic windows that have only the bare minimum of shape to even gain the name “Gothic”. The church has a very Gothic Revival front, which could easily be dated as from around 1830 or ’40, and the choice of materials, simple brick, would support that. I especially like the simple brickwork cornice, with running Gothic arches, echoed by the arches in the small corner chimneys. Sometimes beauty comes full blown, with stained glass, gargoyles, wild flying buttresses and impressive scale. Sometimes it just appears simply and cleanly, and is just as good. GMAP

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