Fine sights to see in Ocean Hill, though Our Lady of Loreto is gone

Eye on Real Estate

February 14, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to Ocean Hill. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Dear Ocean Hill,

What happened to Our Lady of Loreto is not your fault.

Your neighborhood is full of many other beautiful buildings.

Eye on Real Estate

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Ocean Hill is a small, beautiful eastern Brooklyn neighborhood.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The easiest way to locate it on a map is to look for Broadway Junction, the heavily-trafficked subway station at the edge of the neighborhood.

Traditionally, Ocean Hill was considered part of Brownsville. These days, some real estate brokers will tell you Ocean Hill is part of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The historical notion that it’s part of Brownsville makes more sense to us.

We spent a couple days walking around Ocean Hill and loved so many of the blocks we saw.

Painted brick rowhouses are eye pleasers on many streets including Pacific Street, Bergen Street and Prospect Place.

Classic three-story brick rowhouses can be found on St. Marks Place.

We were especially charmed by Herkimer Street, which is lined with clusters of old-fashioned brick rowhouses and dotted with historic church buildings.

Numerous nifty single-block streets run between Herkimer Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Some of the mini-streets have exotic names like Monaco Place and Sherlock Place — and very photogenic homes. For instance, the spiffed-up rowhouses on Louis Place at the corner of Atlantic Avenue are great-looking. Barrel-shaped brick rowhouses on Dewey Place are eye-pleasers too.

We’ll give you more details about Herkimer Street in a minute. First we need to talk about the distressing fate of Our Lady of Loreto, a stunning Ocean Hill church we’ve written about a lot.

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RIP Our Lady of Loreto  

According to Kenneth Jackson and John Manbeck’s book, “The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn,” Ocean Hill was developed in the 1890s “as an exclusive residential community” and was later populated by Italian-Americans.

The Italian-Americans are germane to our story. A century ago they built a stunning Catholic church on the corner of Sackman and Pacific streets.

Our Lady of Loreto was a neoclassical Roman Renaissance-style house of worship with wonderful sculptures on its facade. The architect, the artisans and all the other people who worked on its design and construction were Italian immigrants.

In those days, other Catholics in New York City despised and disrespected Italian immigrants. Our Lady of Loreto was their refuge from this discrimination.

Historic heritage counted for nothing when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn decided to close Our Lady of Loreto — and a few years later, when a Catholic charity that leases the vacant church building decided to tear it down.

The Brownsville Cultural Coalition’s pleas, and a lawsuit by one of the group’s members, to have the church at 126 Sackman St. renovated and turned into a community cultural center proved fruitless.

Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. had agreed to preserve the church, which was eligible for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, in exchange for being allowed to tear down the adjacent rectory.

The agreement turned out to be worthless.     

Our Lady of Loreto did not have the good fortune to be designated as a city landmark, which would have afforded it legal protection from demolition.  

The charitable group said it was tearing down the church so it could build low-income housing.

The demolition began last fall. It was finished in no time flat.

The other day, we looked through the windows in the plywood fence surrounding the church site.

There is nothing behind that fence — nothing — but a vast expanse of bare earth strewn with bits of rubble.

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A German church on Herkimer Street

Gazing at the void where Our Lady of Loreto formerly stood was profoundly upsetting. We should change the subject so we don’t say something that will get us excommunicated.

Instead, we’ll tell you a bit more about Herkimer Street.

There’s an eye-pleasing red-brick church at 1064 Herkimer St. A handsome parsonage stands next to it on the corner of Herkimer Street and Dewey Place.

According to a November 1902 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article we found in Brooklyn Public Library archives, the German Reformed Church of New Brooklyn, as it was originally called, was established in 1852.

The Eagle story says that an extension had just been built on the back of the church and a “complete electric lighting system” had been added.

The church building had been dedicated in 1890.    

A photograph included in the 1902 Eagle story shows the church had a steeple — it doesn’t now —and the parsonage had a big front porch — it’s gone now, too.  

The house of worship’s name is now New Brooklyn Reformed Church, a sign that stands outside 1064 Herkimer St. indicates.

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Rowhouse renovations

Around the corner from New Brooklyn Reformed Church’s parsonage, a handsome single-family brick rowhouse at 15 Dewey Place is being renovated.

City Finance Department records show that the home was sold last September for $630,000 to Travis Reece, Corine Vialva Reece, Christina M. Vialva and Pamela Vialva.

Across the street from the church, there’s renovation scaffolding on a two-family rowhouse at 1069 Herkimer St. Last year, an LLC with Joan Liu as member bought the house for $625,000 from U.S. Bank, Finance Department records indicate.

The bank had taken possession of the house in 2014 through a foreclosure, Finance Department records show.

Some Ocean Hill houses on or near Herkimer Street have sold for significantly higher prices.

For instance, in December 2015, Ariel Contreras-Fox and Trevor Schneider bought 29 Louis Place for $950,000, Finance Department records show.

And in March 2017, an LLC paid $1.22 million for 1182 Herkimer St., which is a three-family home on the corner of Radde Place. The purchaser’s signature on the deed isn’t quite legible. City Department of Housing Preservation and Development files identify the LLC’s head officer as Victor Houser.

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‘What happens on the porch stays on the porch’

Now that Our Lady of Loreto is gone, our favorite building in Ocean Hill is a picturesque house at 1431 Herkimer St.

It’s a stand-alone wood-frame house on a 50-foot-wide, 100-foot-long lot on the corner of Sackman Street. There’s a main house and a separate wing built onto the side of the house. The main house has a front porch and the side wing also has a porch.

A whimsical sign posted on the house says, “What happens on the porch stays on the porch.”

This house doesn’t resemble any other building in the neighborhood. It looks a bit like historic farmhouses in the Midwest.

We went to the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library to see what we could find out about 1431 Herkimer St.

Two maps we saw there suggest that the house is around a century old.

A map in a fire-insurance atlas published in 1908 shows the property with a wood building on it that was the same distinctive shape as the house that’s standing there now.

The lot was vacant on a map in a fire-insurance atlas that was published in 1877.

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