Brooklyn's Historic Churches Disappear to Make Way for Condos

By Janet UpadhyePaul DeBenedetto and Nikhita Venugopal  on June 17, 2014 7:01am

Slideshow
 DNAinfo.com rounded up a list of Brooklyn churches that are reborn as housing rentals.
Brooklyn's Historic Churches Disappearing to Make Way for Condos
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BROOKLYN — The borough of churches is having a second coming as the borough of condos.

In Brooklyn’s “brownstone belt," which stretches from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Carroll Gardens, more than 20 historic churches and church buildings have been converted for residential use in the past two decades.

Some preservationists and historians say the loss of churches is changing the face of some of borough's most historic neighborhoods.

"I think it’s a tragedy that we are losing these unique and amazing structures," said Sharon Barnes, a member of the Society for Clinton Hill. "They are part of the fabric of our streets and to lose so many is heartbreaking."

But Simeon Bankoff, director of the Historic Districts Council, an organization that advocates for New York City’s historic neighborhoods, said that church to condo conversions are a practical way to preserve the historic nature of the buildings after congregations can no longer afford the upkeep.

"The actual physical character of the buildings is retained even when they are converted to residential use," he said.

For example, the St. Vincent De Paul Church at 167 N. 6th St. in Williamsburg preserved the house of worship's façade and interior details. Brian Moskin, a real estate agent, said the condos, named "The Spire Lofts," have been "masterfully restored."

"People love the aesthetic of the reclaimed wood, old beams, exposed brick and stained glass," he said of the units, which run from $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom to $7,384 a month for a 2 1/2-bedroom.

"It's something different and holds the original charm and character of the church."

Not all of the churches have been so lucky. The St. Mark’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Fort Greene was partially demolished to make way for townhouses after the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the partial demolition its blessing.

"The church was empty for a long time and in very bad condition," explained LPC spokeswoman Damaris Olivo.

It is unclear how many landmarked churches the commission has approved for conversion in the last two decades, but applications are frequent, Olivo said.

The Rev. Chris Ballard, pastor of The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, said that when congregations dwindle and churches are forced to close, the community loses much-needed services.

"A church is not just a place of worship," said Ballard, whose church served as the headquarters for Occupy Sandy in the wake of the 2012 hurricane. "A church's doors are also open for concerts, art, social organizing, political discussion, entertainment and music."

DNAinfo New York has compiled a map and list of the neighborhood's disappearing houses of worship.

FORT GREENE AND CLINTON HILL

• St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 232 Adelphi St. (PARTIALLY DEMOLISHED)

Located at 232 Adelphi St., this Gothic Revival structure built in 1888 served as home to an Episcopal congregation for more than 100 years before it was sold in 2001, according to Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The property then changed hands several times, but was bought by “231 Carlton Avenue LLC” in 2011 for $4.1 million, Property Shark reported. The new owners partially demolished the landmarked church and are erecting five two-family townhouses called the “Carlton Mews Townhouses” in its place. They expect the project to be completed this year.

• 264-266 Cumberland St. (CONVERTED)

Christian Scientists, Catholics and Baptists have occupied the red brick buildings on Cumberland Street since they were constructed in 1870, according to The New York Times. The former church and rectory were converted into condos called “The Sanctuary” in 2008. Units sell for upwards of $1 million, according to a real estate listing on Corcoran.

• 382 Clermont Ave. (CONVERTED)

The Brooklyn Diocese sold its 28,350-square-foot chancery in 2012 for $5.84 million, according to Brownstoner. The seven-story building that was built in 1930 and is decorated with stone arches and brick pilasters was later converted to apartment buildings, according to city records.

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN

• The Baptist Temple, 360 Schermerhorn St. (ON THE MARKET)

The church was put on the market in early 2014 and could sell for as much as $20 million, according to Crain's New York. The Romanesque Revival structure, which dates to 1894, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1955. The property can house a 100,000-square-foot building "either by knocking down the existing historic structure or by constructing a new tower that would rise above it," Crain's wrote. 

• Church of the Open Door, 200 Nassau St. (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)

This former Catholic church and community center will soon be a four-story, 84-unit apartment building, according to a Department of Buildings application. There will also be an outdoor parking lot for 31 cars and storage for 42 bikes in the design by Nataliya Donskoy of ND Architecture and Design P.C. It is unclear when construction will finish.

CARROLL GARDENS AND COBBLE HILL 

• Old Westminster Church, 450 Clinton St. (CONVERTED)

Built in 1856, the Carroll Gardens building that once served as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church was converted into a co-op in 1986, according to property records and a real estate agent. The 36,000-square-foot property, owned by “Old Westminster Church,” was converted into 36 residential units and the building still retains some of the church’s original Romanesque architectural elements as well as wooden pews in the lobby.

“It’s sort of fun living in a church,” said Pat Estess, who has lived in the building for 10 years.

• St. Peter’s Church and Academy (401 Hicks St. and 101 Warren St.) (CONVERTED)

The Arches at Cobble Hill composed of two buildings constructed in 1858 that were once used as a church and school. The buildings were gut-renovated in 2005 and converted into 59 residential units, some with original features from the church like stained-glass windows and pillars, according to Lori Mendelis, a real estate broker with Corcoran. The buildings are popular among people moving to Brooklyn and looking for “old world charm” and “modern convenience,” Mendelis said.

• South Congregational Church, 360 Court St. (CONVERTED)

The South Congregational Church has towered over the neighborhood since it opened its doors in 1851 and continued to do so after it was converted to luxury apartments in the ‘80s, the New York Times reported. The three-story building, which has not only been landmarked, but is also on the National Register of Historic Places, has 26 residential units and offices for a law firm and podiatrist in the basement.

The Landmark at Strong Place, 58 Strong Place (CONVERTED)

The Cobble Hill church, located at 58 Strong Place, had been closed for years before plans to convert it to condominiums were finalized in 2006, according to Curbed and city records. The converted church has four stories and 23 residential units. During construction, woodwork within the landmarked building was salvaged and re-installed on windows and walls, real estate broker Saul Retig of Brooklyn Bridge Realty said.

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

• 99 Clinton St. (CONVERTED)

Built in 1850, the landmarked Brooklyn Heights building was once a Presbyterian church that was converted into a 10-unit residential building. The three-story building at the corner of Clinton and Remsen streets is owned by “Spencer Mews Owners Inc.,” according to property records. One of the three-bedroom co-op units in the building recently sold for $2.1 million, according to StreetEasy.

CROWN HEIGHTS

• The Church of St. Ignatius, 267 Rogers Ave. (PARTIALLY DEMOLISHED)

The 13,000-square-foot Roman Catholic church, built in 1920, served the area until 2013, when Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio closed the church, merging it with the closest congregation, the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise. Plans to build a five-story, 112,000-square-foot residential building with on-site parking were approved in late March, according to buildings records. The church building was demolished this spring and construction is ongoing. The architect for the project is Think Architecture and Design and the owner is listed as “1267 Rogers Avenue LLC,” however, a spokeswoman from the Diocese of Brooklyn said the church still owns the property and is leasing it to the developer, but couldn’t say for how long.

• 991 Eastern Parkway (CONVERSION PLAN)

Formerly a church that housed the Ebenezer-M.E. Russell Elementary School, a Christian elementary school, this 7,200-square-foot building built in 1925 was bought in May  2013 for $2.1 million by “Eastern Upreal LLC,” the name used for the project by the development firm Brookland Capital. The co-founder of Brookland, Boaz Gilad, put his name on an application filed in November 2013 to convert 991 Eastern Parkway into a seven-story residential building designed by Isaac Stern Architects, according to records. The Department of Buildings rejected the permit in March of this year, but Gilad said work on the project will begin next month after a revised application is approved.

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT

• The Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1010 Bedford Ave. (PARTIALLY DEMOLISHED)

Known until 2006 as the First German Evangelical Lutheran St. Peter's Church, the building was sold in 2008 for $4.1 million, according to public records. Since then, developers have worked on demolishing the rear of the building and gutting its interior to turn it into a six-story, 48-unit apartment designed by architect Karl Fischer that should be finished by 2015, according to the DOB.

WILLIAMSBURG, GREENPOINT AND BUSHWICK

• St. Vincent De Paul Church, 167 N. 6th St. (CONVERTED)

Located at 167 N. 6th St. in Williamsburg, this 145-year old Catholic church and parish house sold for $13.7 million in late 2011, according to Brownstoner. The building was converted into 40 apartments that hit the market last week for prices ranging from $4,250 a month for a 1 1/2-bedroom to $5,500 a month for a two-bedroom, according to a real estate listing. The apartments retain the church's original wooden beams, arched windows and stained glass.

• 541 Leonard St. (CONVERTED)

This former Pentecostal church in Greenpoint was converted into three loft-style condos in late 2013. Many of the original church details, such as spires and vaulted ceilings, remain, making for “an incredibly dramatic space,” said Deborah Rieders, Corcoran broker for the property.

The lofts went on sale last year for as much as $2.5 million and garnered some 100 inquiries in just a week, she said. The owners decided to take it off the market to do more construction. They have not decided when to put it back on the market and may turn it into rentals, she said.

Iglesia Cristiana Evangelistica El Divino Salvador, 1485 Gates Ave. (PLAN TO DEMOLISH)

This small church will soon meet the wrecking ball after being sold in 2013 for $735,000, according to city records. It's being developed into a five-story, 10-unit building by developers Blue Stone Venture Capital, according to the DOB.

• St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 628 Bushwick Ave. (CONVERSION PLAN)

Built in 1892, this church once had a pulpit made of Richmond cherry wood, an altar carved from Carrara marble and mural paintings of Moses and John the Baptist. It was purchased by an LLC in January 2014 for $4.1 million and will be converted into 99 apartments by developers Cayuga Capital, with studios going for about $1,900 per month.

"We're taking the stained glass out and putting real windows in...and then turning the stained glass into shutters," said Cayuga Capital's principal Jamie Wiseman told DNAinfo New York. "It's beautiful...and there are very few rental apartments in churches."

• Holy Tabernacle Church of Deliverance, 1255 Bushwick Ave. (CONVERSION PLAN)

This church was sold to Brookland Capital in June of last year for $1.95 million,  according to city records. Brookland plans to convert the church to a 32-unit condo building, Brownstoner reported. A rendering of the design shows a church-like façade with modern, boxy condos stacked atop. It is unclear when construction will begin.

• 64 Havemeyer St. (CONVERTED)

This more than 100-year-old former convent Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic fell into disrepair in the late ‘70s, and soon after, a group of local residents pushed the city to let them renovate it into homes, according to a 1996 story in the New York Times. It took the renovators some 10 years — with mortgages, donations and some help of from the city along the way — before the church became a livable space. Now, the building with 11 studio units and 11-foot ceilings is worth some $1.7 million on the market.

• 74 Maujer St. (CONVERSION PLAN)

The Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate, a Catholic church located at 74 Maujer St. but with several other addresses publicly listed, was founded in 1853, according to its website. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” author Betty Smith was baptized there, but now building permits say that developer Leonard Terrace LLC will be transforming the space into 40 residential units. A sign on the front of the church says the developer expects to finish the project this fall.

A representative with Leonard Terrace could not be reached.

Additional reporting by Serena Dai and Rachel Holliday Smith.

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