St. Elias Church Greenpoint

No. 145-153.

Maybe the most elegant building in Greenpoint sits abandoned It was once the St. Elias Greek Rite Roman Catholic Church, but its congregation of Russian Catholics died out. It was originally built in High Victorian style in 1869 for the Reformed Dutch Church of Greenpoint. The Reformed Church was organized in May 1848, holding its first services in a room above a local grocery store. In 1850 a small church was erected on Java Street. This was replaced in 1870 by the Kent Street building. The church was designed by William B. Ditmars, a “well known Brooklyn architect”1 about whom little is known. Ditmars designed several other structures in Brooklyn, including the former Beth Elohim Synagogue on Keap Street. In 1879 architect W. Wheeler Smith designed the Sunday school addition that is located to the east of the main church structure. The Reformed congregation used the church until 1943 when it was sold to St. Elias Church. After holding services at Temple Beth-El on Noble Street, the Greenpoint Reformed Church
moved, in 1944, to the former Thomas C. Smith house on Milton Street, where it remains today.

The church resembles other Early Romanesque Revival style churches built by various Protestant sects prior to and just after the Civil War. The central gabled section flanked by projecting square towers of uneven height, the round-arched and c^beled cornices, and the round-arched openings are all reminiscent of such Early Romanesque Revival masterpieces as the Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights and the South Congregational Church at the corner of Court and President Streets in Carroll Gardens.
The church does not quite fit in with the simple unadorned style of many Dutch Reformed churches.It obviously took a lot of money to build. Who financed this elaborate structure? The Meserole family would have been the members of the church with enough money to build such a structure. Adrian Meserole who became a millionaire was a member as were his cousins. Probably Mary Meserole Bliss was a prominent donor. She married Neziah Bliss and became rich because her husband developed most of the original real estate in Greenpoint.

Why did the Dutch sell the church and move to Milton Street? By the time that the original members of the church had made their money and become rich, Greenpoint had become a pollluted heavily industrialized area. Many of the Meseroles went to live in more affluent parts of Brooklyn. I am guessing that the congregation shrank.

The detailing of the building, however, particularly the polychromatic banded arches at the windows and doors and naturalistically-carved column capitals, places it firmly within the High Victorian movement that held sway after the Civil War. This combination of Early Romanesque Revival and High Victorian forms can also be seen at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (now the Norwegian Seamens Church) of 1867, located at the corner of Court Street and First Place in Carroll Gardens.

The focus of the Church is the pedimented entrance portico located in the center of the building. This projecting element has a compound round-arched entry supported by columns with naturalistically-carved capitals. The outer arch has banded voussoirs which are now painted, making them even more emphatic than in the original design. Each of the flanking towers has a smaller entrance arch with similar columns and banding. All of the entrances retain their original double doors. Above the main entrance is a large wheel window with heavy wooden mullions and banded half surround. All of the other openings on the front facade are narrow round-arched windows with diamond-paned glass and banded voussoirs.

Each of the towers has a round-arched brick cornice above which once rose steep roofs with polychromatic slate shingles. The larger eastern tower is still surmounted by an octagonal drum upon which once sat a sloping octagonal roof with an iron cresting. This tower was erected after the congregation decided not’to build the 175-foot spire that had been designed for the structure. The windows of the octagonal drum have stone voussoirs that have not been painted and still exhibit the original polychromatic appearance of the building. The western tower was originally topped by a.steep four-sided mansard roof.

The Sunday school, designed by W. Wheeler Smith, is an extremely handsome two-story structure designed to resemble a medieval Italian baptistry, such as that at Cremona. The angled front facade was designed to give the illusion of an octagonal building, although in reality, it extends into the building lot. The Sunday school is connected to the church by a narrow passage with an entrance door that is covered by a wooden hood resting on an ornate bracket. Projecting from the eastern side of the building is an extension with a door that is shaded by a handsome wooden porch.

The clerestory of the main section of the Sunday school is visible above this extension. The windows of the building are all round-arched; on the first floor are large openings, while on the second story the windows are grouped in threes. A polychromatic slate roof arid a finial have been removed.

The church and Sunday school are set behind a cast-iron fence of unusual design: the palings are connected by small arched forms cast to resemble the voussoir pattern of the entrance arch.

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