Building of the Day: 515 Dean Street

Photo: Greg Snodgrass for PropertyShark

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally First Swedish Baptist Church, now Temple of Restoration
Address: 515 Dean Street
Cross Streets: 6th and Carlton avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1893
Architectural Style: Gothic inspired Romanesque Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States brought with them their traditions of worship. As can be imagined, especially because of language and custom, the newcomers found it most comfortable to worship in the traditions and styles they brought from the Old Country. Many immigrants came here with little or nothing, so it took a while to be able to raise enough money to build a new church, temple or mosque. Our historic church buildings often went through many different denominations, even different faiths, to survive to the present day. This particular church was built for Swedish Baptists.

Although many different variations of Christianity are practiced in Sweden, the predominant denomination is Lutheran. It was the state religion up until 2000. Tens of thousands of Swedes came to New York in the latter half of the 19th century, but few were Baptists. The first Swedish Baptist church in Manhattan was established in 1868. They branched off, and founded a Brooklyn church in 1884. That year, 94 people came together as a church, meeting in the basement of the Central Baptist Church on Bridge Street.

By the mid-1880s, there were 10,000 Swedes in Brooklyn alone. The number of Baptists had grown, leading to the establishment of the First Swedish Baptist Church, on the corner of Atlantic and Third Avenues, in 1886. From the papers, it looks as if they were forced to leave that building, so they built a new church here, at 513-515 Dean Street. It was consecrated in 1893.

The newspapers covered the opening ceremonies and described the building, but neglected to mention the architect. It’s not listed in the Builder’s Guide, either. Two Swedes of some architectural note were working at that time in Brooklyn, Magnus Dahlander and Axel Hedman. The church isn’t typical of either of them, although it looks more Dahlanderesque, in its manipulation of arches. Just because they were Swedish, however, does not mean they are the only architects who can design for Swedes. It could have been any number of fine architects. Goes to show you how little the architect was regarded in these cases, back then. The papers will describe a building down to the rest rooms, but not tell you who did the work.

Anyway, the Eagle noted that the interior was trimmed in oak and hardwood, and that the ceiling was pine with oak trim. A balcony went all around the room. It also noted that the design was “Gothic.” Whoever did design the church was a master of subtlety. There isn’t a lot of added ornament here; it’s all in the fine brickwork. The large two story arch which is then filled in except for the upper arched window is really a very pared down, modern aesthetic, echoed by the same effect in the Gothic windows on the side. There is some really good stuff going on here.

The church opened with 430 members, the Eagle noting that the building had a capacity for 630, anticipating more growth. The church remained here for quite a while, until it became the Dean Street Baptist Church in 1941. Interestingly enough, the pastor at that time was Swedish, as was most of the congregation, lending one to believe they just changed the name. Perhaps World War II had something to do with it, or perhaps they simply wished to be more welcoming to those of other ethnicities and backgrounds.

Dean Street Baptist was here from 1941 to 1975, at which time, the title was transferred to the Baptist Conference, a central governing board. In 1986, the building was lost to the City of New York. They sold it, or leased it, to the First Evangelical Haitian Church. They couldn’t maintain it either, and eventually, the building was sold to the Temple of Restoration, a Pentecostal Church, in 2005.

Fortunately, this block was spared from the wrecking ball of AY, certainly not because of the church, but because of a deal to save the Newswalk Building. Unfortunately the street is also very narrow here, and when church services are going on, double parking makes getting by on the bus especially slow. I’ve gotten a great look at the details of the church while stuck in traffic, over the years. GMAP

(Photograph: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark)

Photo: Greg Snodgrass for Property Shark

Photo: Greg Snodgrass for PropertyShark



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