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Brooklyn Orthodox Christian church building nominated for historic places status

St. Nicholas Cathedral was important in growth of Arabic-speaking Christian community

September 9, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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A church building at 355 State St. in Boerum Hill is one of 19 buildings that Gov. Kathy Hochul has nominated for the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The church was built as St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church, but since 1920 it has been the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral. As such, it played a key role in fostering the Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christian community in Brooklyn during the early 20th century. 

Most of the congregation’s original members were Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who initially formed a congregation in Manhattan in 1895, then moved to a location on Pacific Street in Brooklyn several years later. The church’s current home is the oldest continuously-used Antiochian Orthodox Christian church in North America.  

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According to the church’s website, when the church bought the former Episcopal house of worship, “The parishioners were successful in converting it into an Orthodox House of worship with the proper iconostasis, icons, chandeliers, etc. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, the church and the adjacent property were lost because the mortgage could not be paid, but the parishioners managed to rent it on a monthly basis.”

In June of this year, the block of State Street where the church sits was co-named “St. Raphael of Brooklyn Place,” in a ceremony in which several public officials were present. St. Raphael of Brooklyn, born in Lebanon, was the first Orthodox bishop to be consecrated in North America, and he served as the Bishop of Brooklyn until his death.

Other notable buildings nominated by Governor Hochul include a “castle” built by prominent Catskill Mountains photographer/aviator Otto Hillig; a Buffalo bakery that helped introduce Wonder Bread to America; and a community library in the Adirondacks.

 

“New York’s historical places are priceless treasures that help us connect with the past and our state’s rich  heritage,” Governor Hochul said. “These nominations reflect the fantastic breadth of the state’s history and the prominent role New York has played in events that helped to sculpt our nation. These additions to the historic registers will help ensure there are resources available to protect these iconic places and that their stories will inspire us long into the future.”  

A listing on the State and National Registers listing can assist owners in revitalizing properties, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. Over the past decade, the state has approved the use of rehabilitation commercial tax credits for more than 1,000 historic properties, driving more than $12 billion in private investment. 

“Part of our mission here at State Parks is to help preserve and promote the incredible range of history present in the state,” Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. “Securing recognition for such places provides resources that will help keep this history alive and vibrant.”  

The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects, and sites significant in the history, architecture, archaeology, and culture of New York State and the nation.   

There are more than 120,000 historic properties throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts. Property owners, municipalities, and organizations from communities throughout the state sponsored the nominations.  

Once recommendations are approved by the state park commissioner, who serves as the state’s historic preservation officer, the properties are listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and then nominated, reviewed, and once approved, entered into the National Register of Historic Places.  


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