Brooklyn’s loveliest church (and other buildings near Fort Greene Park)
Eye on Real Estate: St. Michael-St. Edward is so beautiful and so empty.
I’m haunted by a church.
It looks like a ghostly gray castle in a dream — an abandoned castle. Two 80-foot turrets with pointy roofs flank its front entrance. You might have glimpsed them from Fort Greene Park’s hilltop, which is a block away. Did you realize you were seeing the Church of St. Michael-St. Edward?
When you leave the park and go hunting for this house of worship, you find it’s at 108 St. Edwards St. at the edge of the Ingersoll Houses.
I’m bowled over by the beauty of a whole bunch of Brooklyn churches. But I think St. Michael-St. Edward is the loveliest one of all.
Two things haunt me about this stately Fort Greene icon:
* Its grandeur.
* The fact that it has been closed for eight years and isn’t landmarked. What will become of it?
I asked a spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn what it plans to do with St. Michael-St. Edward. But church officials did not give him any information with which to answer my question by deadline.
The purpose of this story is to walk you around the perimeter of Fort Greene Park and show you the surrounding buildings.
The park, located within the Fort Greene Historic District, has been on my mind these days because it was created in the 1840s thanks to campaigning by Brooklyn Eagle editor and famous poet Walt Whitman. As of course you know, everybody’s been celebrating his 200th birthday, which was May 31.
But there are some other things I need to say about St. Michael-St. Edward before we start our stroll.
John Jerome Deery, an architect who was especially good with ecclesiastic projects, designed the pale-hued brick Romanesque Revival house of worship.
The cornerstone of the Church of St. Edward the Confessor, as it was originally called, was laid in 1891. Architectural history writer Suzanne Spellen said in a Brownstoner story that poor Irish parishioners raised the money for the church’s construction. It took 15 years.
The patron saint of royalty and troubled marriages
Sadly, I’ve never been inside St. Michael-St. Edward.
It’s probably not in good shape. In 2010, when the Diocese of Brooklyn decided to close it, the New York Times reported that Father John Powis had been forced to serve Mass in its basement because of falling debris in the main part of the church.
New York City is full of skillful preservation architects and artisans. They know how to shore up and restore historic buildings. What about fixing up the church and turning it into a cultural center for NYCHA residents?
Or how about selling or renting it to a school or a museum or some nonprofit that would put it to good use?
Or how about creating an activity center for the LGBTQ+ seniors who’ll be moving into the apartment tower BFC Partners and advocacy group SAGE are building on NYCHA land at 112 St. Edwards St.? The church is right next door to the Ingersoll Senior Residences, which is what the new tower is called.
Marvel Architects designed the seniors building. Its gray-brick facade harmonizes with the color scheme of the church.
A brief aside: If you don’t know every last detail of ecclesiastic history (couldn’t blame you), St. Edward the Confessor was an 11th-century English king. According to the Catholic Herald, he is the patron saint of “troubled marriages as well as royalty.”
Brooklyn Hospital is selling the Maynard Building
Let’s take our stroll now. Cross Myrtle Avenue and continue along St. Edwards Street, which borders Fort Greene Park.
After walking a block, you come to the corner of Willoughby Street, where there’s an entrance to the park.
There’s a modern 21-story tower — a very valuable tower — called the Maynard Building, which belongs to The Brooklyn Hospital Center. It’s got medical-office space and 157 apartments for hospital employees.
In January 2018, Crain’s New York Business reported the hospital had agreed to sell the building at 240 Willoughby St. for roughly $100 million to Rabsky Group, a residential developer.
Built on an urban renewal site
The first publicly accessible documentation about the deal appeared in city Finance Department records in October 2018. This memorandum of purchase and sale agreement does not mention the price the Rabsky Group agreed to pay.
The document says the hospital and Rabsky Group signed a sale contract in late December 2017, and that the sale must close “no later than the fourth anniversary” of the contract date. There’s still lots of time left before the clock runs out.
The hospital acquired the land on which it constructed the Maynard Building from the New York State Urban Development Corp. in 1974, Finance Department records show.
At that time, the hospital made an agreement with the city of New York that for the next 40 years, the land could be used only in ways that were specified in a Fort Greene urban renewal plan. That restriction ended in May 2013.
The Fort Greene Historic District’s only freestanding mansion
After you get an eyeful of the Maynard Building, step into Fort Greene Park and follow the path that runs parallel to The Brooklyn Hospital Center.
You’ll wind up at DeKalb Avenue, with a view of the intersection of Fort Greene Place. New apartment towers soar into the sky behind low-rise Fort Greene rowhouses. And the famous Williamsburgh Savings Bank is visible, topped by a clock with four faces.
Stroll along DeKalb Avenue where it borders Fort Greene Park. Most of these blocks are included in the Fort Greene Historic District.
The landmarked district’s only freestanding mansion is here on a big corner lot. Its address is 1 South Portland Ave. It’s really something.
The DeKalb Avenue side of the house is red brick and has a three-sided bay. Its South Portland Avenue side is brownstone.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Fort Greene Historic District says architect Edward Kendall designed it in 1878 and builder-real estate dealer Horace Moody constructed it.
The first occupant was a Vermont state legislator named Col. Nathan Turner Sprague who moved to Brooklyn and started Sprague National Bank.
The current owners bought the house for $2.85 million in 2006 and converted it from an 11-unit apartment building to a two-family home, city Buildings Department and Finance Department records indicate.
Costly co-ops and a feathery fence
Next to the mansion, there’s a combination Second Empire-neo-Grec brownstone at 7 South Portland Ave. that Horace Moody also constructed, the LPC designation report says. He built it in 1876.
It’s currently an eight-unit co-op building. Last year, one of the apartments sold for $787,000 in an estate sale, Finance Department records show.
Further down DeKalb Avenue, another corner-lot home with both brownstone and red-brick facades stands at 213 Cumberland St. It’s at the end of a row of French Second Empire houses constructed around 1867 by William A. Brush.
The iron fence around the house is especially eye-catching. The top part of it’s made to look like a row of feathery arrows.
On the opposite side of DeKalb Avenue, the portion of Cumberland Street that borders Fort Greene Park is called Washington Park. That was the recreation area’s original name.
Wonderful Washington Park rowhouses
On Washington Park, the addresses alternate between odd and even numbers from house to house.
Nearly all of Washington Park stands within the Fort Greene Historic District.
To give you an idea of what the homes on this street are worth, 180 Washington Park sold for $2.8 million in 2010, Finance Department records show.
And 181 Washington Park was priced at $3.285 million in a 2012 sale.
Two especial favorites of mine, 179 Washington Park and 176 Washington Park, stand on either side of Willoughby Avenue.
No, that’s not a typo. On the west side of Fort Greene Park, where the Maynard Building is located, there’s Willoughby Street. But on the east side of the park, it becomes Willoughby Avenue.
Washington Park ends at Myrtle Avenue. When you turn left to complete your walk around Fort Greene Park’s perimeter, you see the vast NYCHA complex called the Walt Whitman Houses.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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