Building of the Day: 404 Lafayette Avenue

1958 Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally First Church of Christ, Scientist, then Siloam Presbyterian Church, now Lafayette Church of God in Christ.
Address: 404 Lafayette Avenue
Cross Streets: Classon and Franklin Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1896
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Montrose W. Morris
Other buildings by architect: Alhambra, Imperial, Renaissance, Bedfordshire, Roanoke, Arlington Apartments; Hoagland Mansion, Hulbert Mansion; town houses in Bed Stuy, Clinton Hill, Park Slope, and Crown Heights North and South.
Landmarked: No

The story: Today’s BOTD is by Montrose Morris, his only church building that we know of. Morris is best known as an architect of houses and apartment buildings, some of which are among Brooklyn’s finest late 19th century buildings. He usually worked for wealthy clients, designing large mansions, row house blocks and some of Brooklyn’s first luxury apartment buildings. Like his contemporaries, the Parfitt Brothers and George Chappell, Montrose Morris could design any kind of building a client needed, but unlike them, he steered clear of church buildings, until 1896, almost at the midpoint of his career.

The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston in 1879. It was the first Christian denomination to be founded by a woman, and women were encouraged to become leaders and speakers in the church, something not to be found in any other mainstream denomination at the time. Christian Science churches are named in the order of their founding: first, second, third and so on. First Church of Christ, Scientist in Brooklyn was founded by Mrs. P. J. Leonard in 1886.

The church met at 266 Cumberland Street in Fort Greene for many years. In 1897, the cornerstone was laid for this building on Lafayette Avenue between Classon and Franklin, on the edge of the Bedford and Clinton Hill neighborhoods. They hired Montrose Morris to design a simple but elegant temple for their growing society. By this time Morris’ designs had moved from his very ornate Romanesque Revival buildings to the more restrained Renaissance Revival style, typified by the use of light colored brick and limestone. This church is much in that frame of reference.

Anyone can pile ornament onto a building, but a good architect can make an elegant design appear deceptively simple, until you look at the elements and their composition. Morris’ use of this beautiful cream colored brick with slight color variations makes the design. He highlights the center of the building between the pilasters with horizontal brick stripes laid in what can best be described as an English wall stretcher bond.

The Brooklyn Eagle said at the dedication of the church in late 1897 that “the interior is lighted by large windows on both sides and is tastefully finished in oak. The platform contains two handsome desks, one for each reader, instead of one, which is usual. The pews are very handsome, also of oak, and the church, including the gallery, has a seating capacity of about six hundred.”

In 1910, the church built a much larger and impressive building on Dean Street and New York Avenue, and this building was sold to Siloam Presbyterian Church, one of Brooklyn’s oldest African-American denominations. Siloam called this building home until 1944, when they moved to the corner of Jefferson and Marcy Avenues in Bedford Stuyvesant (into a recently built church once occupied by the Central Presbyterian Church). Since Siloam’s move, this building has been home to the Lafayette Church of God in Christ. GMAP

1958 Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society

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