By Francesca Norsen Tate
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This year’s Sacred Sites Open House Weekend, coming up on May 18 and 19, feature four Brooklyn churches, one which marks its centennial this year. One of these landmark buildings, Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights, which celebrates its 166th anniversary this year, has just begun a major renovation and restoration project.
The Landmarks Conservancy’s third annual “Sacred Sites Open House Weekend” offers an occasion for culturally important religious institutions throughout the City and State to open their doors to the public and introduce people to remarkable art and architecture they would not normally have the opportunity to discover. Congregations participating in the weekend present their remarkable history and showcase the cultural and social service programs they provide the wider community.
“Religious art and architecture is perhaps our greatest creative achievement. Nowhere in the United States is this better demonstrated than right here in New York with its rich diversity of religions and ecclesiastical buildings. The Open House Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to truly be a tourist in your own town,” says Peg Breen, President of the Landmarks Conservancy.
The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program is the only statewide program in the country providing financial and technical assistance for the restoration of culturally significant religious properties. Since 1986, the program has disbursed grants of more than $7.7 million to 700 congregations regardless of denomination.
Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights closed its sanctuary to worship on the day after Easter to begin the preparatory work for a major roof replacement and renovation project.
Meanwhile, parishioners worship in the Guild Hall, which has been transformed into an attractive and conducive worship space. During the past month, workers have removed the organ pipes and console from the sanctuary, in what has been described as meticulous preparation steps. Actual work on the building is expected to begin by June. Co-chair of the Renovation and Restoration Committee, Margaret Monsor, has confirmed that Grace Church is still participating in the Sacred Sites weekend.
First Unitarian Congregational Society-Brooklyn marks its 180th anniversary this year. The new congregation was established on June 19, 1833, when ten men convened at 106 Nassau Street, the home of Josiah and Rebecca Dow, to agree on the need for a Unitarian Church in Brooklyn so that they no longer had to endure the ferry commute from Manhattan, according to Olive Hoogenboom’s book, The First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn: The First One Hundred Fifty Years, published in 1987. Hoogenboom reports that these founders were “tired of sermons and services which shocked their very reason and outraged their best feelings.” The present church building and its adjoining Chapel came later. The plans of architect Richard Upjohn did not meet with the congregation’s approval, and his Episcopalian viewpoint was not compatible with theirs. They finally decided on working with architect Minard Lafever, a fellow Unitarian. He designed the church, called at the time Church of the Saviour, which was completed in 1844.
Plymouth Church (formerly called Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims from when the two congregations had merged in the mid-20th century), was founded in 1847. Fiery abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher preached here from 1847 until 1887. Among the thousands of worshipers who came to hear him were Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.
South Bushwick Reformed Church, 15 Himrod Street, was completed in a park-like setting by Cornelius Woglom in 1853 by families from twenty neighboring farms. The wood-frame church is unusual in its combination of austere Greek Revival forms and is crowned with a Georgian-inspired tower and steeple.
This year’s Open House is being sponsored by EverGreene Architectural Arts, one of the country’s premier full-service companies in the restoration of historic religious buildings, along with Walter Sedovic Architects, pioneers of sustainable preservation and a firm deeply engaged in the practice of combining tradition and innovation in technology. Faith & Form, the Interfaith Journal on Religion, Art and Architecture, is the media sponsor. Faith & Form is affiliated with the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA), part of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). EverGreene Architectural Arts has pioneered the restoration of sacred spaces for more than 30 years.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy has led the effort to preserve and protect New York’s architectural legacy for 40 years. Since its founding, the Conservancy has loaned and granted more than $40 million, which has leveraged more than $1 billion in 1,550 restoration projects throughout the State, revitalizing communities, providing economic stimulus and supporting local jobs. The Conservancy has also offered countless hours of pro bono technical advice to building owners, both nonprofit organizations and individuals. Its work has saved more than a thousand buildings protecting New York’s distinctive cultural heritage for residents and visitors alike today, and for future generations. For more information, please visit www.nylandmarks.org.