Emergency Landmark Request for Flatbush Presbyterian Church

Emergency Landmark Request for Flatbush Presbyterian Church

Existing condition Photos

Some Historical records

LPC Acknowledgement Letter

December 23, 2018

Hon. Sarah Carroll, Chair
NYC Landmarks Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Re: Emergency Request for Evaluation, 494 East 23rd Street, Brooklyn, Flatbush Presbyterian Church
Dear Chair Carroll,
We are writing you to urge you to immediately consider the calendaring and landmark designation of 494 East 23rd Street, Brooklyn, the Flatbush Presbyterian Church, aka Flatbush Church of the Redeemer, as an individual landmark. It is imperative that this be considered expeditiously as demolition or alteration permit applications may be filed any day.
The beautifully harmonized Gothic styled historic stone structures on a corner lot hail from two different periods, with two different eminent architects being involved decades apart.
The Flatbush Presbyterian Church was originally “The Little Stone Church in the Potato Patch”[1].  A chapel in the English Gothic style was constructed by architect John J. Petit in the year 1898, as one cornerstone shows.[2]
The 1922 addition was designed by a member of “one of America’s oldest architectural dynasties,”[3] Hobart B. Upjohn, who, like his grandfather Richard Upjohn and his father Richard M. Upjohn, specialized in the design of churches.
Taken as a whole, the Flatbush Presbyterian Church is a striking example of Gothic architecture here in Brooklyn that is entirely intact even after over 120 years.  The gorgeously intricate crocketed spires were meant to invoke the divine on earth.  They stand over a classically detailed yet simple parapet.

The dignified stone structure is adorned with the quintessential tower and spires associated with Gothic architecture, in addition to clerestory windows, trefoilesque crowned windows, lancet windows and pointed arches.

The archivolt entrances are also adorned with rosette details and stone coat of arms and curled flourish.   Detailed rosettes adorn every part of the building from the top of the noble towers to the historic copper gutters and drainpipes that also contribute to the design.
Remarkably, the structures are in pristine shape with no evidence of any roof impairments. In fact there is only one broken window to mar an otherwise perfect condition.

As you well know, John J. Petit was a solo practitioner and was also associated with Kirby, Petit & Green. Petit’s most famous work is not faraway, 131 Buckingham Road, in the Prospect South Historic District.
In fact he was the chief architect for the entire Prospect Park South. Petit was also responsible for All Souls Universalist Church (1905) on the corner of Ocean and Newkirk Avenues in Flatbush. Your Commission found that architect John J. Petit was responsible for some of the finest buildings in the Prospect Park South Historic District. In many cases he deployed Gothic elements that were recognized by the LPC. Examples noted by your Commission include:
1501 Albemarle Road with posts ornamented with Gothic trefoil rondels and a gothic sash
78 Marlborough Road has medievalizing Gothic detail and pointed arch windows with Gothic sash
184 Marlborough Road had multi pane casement windows that originally led to the lovely Gothic wrought iron balcony
208 Marlborough Road with Gothic upper sash
Here at 494 East 23rd Street there are not a few elements but a full on Gothic church from 1898 and 1922, that originates over 120 years ago with a seamlessly blended addition that is 96 years old. How can this not qualify to be a designated NYC landmark?
Sadly one enclave designed by Petit just off the Prospect Park Parade Grounds called the Tennis Court is already lost to history. Like Prospect Park South, which was still undeveloped fields at that time, that neighborhood had large homes and broad streets with price limits. Unfortunately, none of them still stand, as the entire neighborhood was razed for apartment buildings in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. It is imperative to save this remaining Petit work.
As if that architectural pedigree and structural elegance were not enough, in 1922 the church expanded into its current “L” shape with a design by the esteemed Hobart Brown Upjohn.
In January 1922 Upjohn was taking bids for his plans in progress for the church addition with Rev. Herbert Field, pastor.[4] In 1922 the church awarded the contract for construction to its then new edifice to Richard Von Lehn Sons at a cost of $80,000 from plans by Hobart B. Upjohn.[5]
Hobart Brown Upjohn (1876-1949) was a New York architect. His mother was Emma Degan Tyng (1836-1901), a daughter of an Episcopal clergyman. His father was the famous architect Richard Mitchell Upjohn (1828-1903), designer of many well-known churches and -the Connecticut State Capitol. Richard M. Upjohn was in turn a son of the even more famous Richard Upjohn (1802-1878), an architect who had immigrated to the United States from England as a young man. He helped introduce the Gothic Revival style with his design for Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York (1846) and with his widely read book Upjohn's Rural Architecture (1852), which showed how to apply the new style to small, simple churches and other buildings everywhere.
Hobart Upjohn went to school at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and graduated in 1899 with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1901, after several short jobs, he became assistant principal of the School of Architecture of the International Correspondence Schools in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and wrote textbooks on engineering. In 1903 he returned to New York and worked as an engineer for Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz, architect, and Andrew McKenzie, engineer, who had formed one of the first architectural and engineering firms in the United States. While there Upjohn received a letter intended for his father, who had died in 1903, requesting a design for a new church. Upjohn made a design himself, visited the church, and convinced its leaders to hire him. Thus, with his surname and his father's and grandfather's reputations behind him, he opened his own architectural office in 1905.
Over the next forty years he and his firm produced an array of churches in places as far away as Texas, but primarily in New England, North Carolina, New York State, and of course New York City. They also designed private houses and buildings for hospitals and schools, including a half-dozen for Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and another half-dozen for St. Catherine's School in Richmond, Virginia. He is best known for his many designs of distinguished residences, churches and college buildings. These include the All Souls’ Unitarian Church at Lexington Avenue and 80th Street and buildings on the North Carolina State University campus. The first churches he designed were in the Gothic Revival style.
Upjohn served as architectural advisor to Trinity Church in New York. He also served as president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He finally closed his office in 1945, and died in 1949.
This Flatbush Presbyterian Church Upjohn addition from 1922 is a complementary case to another landmark that includes a similarly harmonious addition he designed.
The Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall was built in 1912. It was designed by the architectural firm of Upjohn and Conable in the Tudor Gothic Revival style to complement the design of the existing church building, and was built at the far end of the graveyard in the northeast corner of the block at 90th Avenue and Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens.
There the Commission found that, among its important qualities, the Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall is part of one of the most historic church complexes in New York City; that northeast of the church building, behind the graveyard, is the Memorial Hall, constructed in 1912 to meet the needs of the growing congregation for a meeting place and social center; designed by the prominent architectural firm of Upjohn and Conable in Tudor Gothic Revival style to complement the church building.
Another Upjohn design is 309 St Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island, in the St. Paul's Avenue-Stapleton Heights Historic District, founded in 1856 as the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church.  The church building is a 1913-14 neo-Gothic structure designed by the prominent ecclesiastical architects Upjohn & Conable.
In the 1990s it was home to a Seven Day Adventist congregation.[6]
Up until at least 2005 494 East 23rd Street was also home to a school, the New Vistas Academy and the First Step Early Childhood Development group daycare center.[7]
It would be an incredible shame to lose this architecturally and historically significant building and church, especially since other works by the same notable architects have been preserved in other parts of NYC. This part of Brooklyn remains woefully without individual landmarks and therefore valuable historic resources in this area such as this over century old church are vulnerable to insensitive alteration and even demolition.
In connection to this urgent request we must bring to your attention a recent dereliction of duty by your recent predecessors.  Earlier this year your agency denied our community request and an appeal to calendar another nearby century old church by Helme and Corbett.  This was quite shocking so much so it made the “Top Ten Preservation Battles of 2018[8]. 
In the September 4th, 2018 letter denying our appeal imploring the LPC to consider calendaring The Baptist Church of the Redeemer at 1921 Cortelyou Road your agency then wrote:

“The Commission is currently studying the Flatbush area, and we will keep you apprised of our efforts in this part of Brooklyn.”  We have not heard about these efforts since then, but we hope to be updated. Frankly, time is running out to preserve the remaining architectural gems. 

It is fitting that this site at 494 East 23rd Street Brooklyn we request to be calendared and approved for landmark designation was also known as the Flatbush Church of the Redeemer.  This is a chance for redemption of your agency under your new leadership.
In light of your agency’s commitment to study this area and the compelling significance of this building, it’s amazing architectural integrity, and it’s place in New York City history, as well as the imminent threat to 494 East 23rd Street, Brooklyn, we strongly urge the Commission to move swiftly to calendar it and consider it for landmark designation.
With respect,
Respect Brooklyn

[1] “A Fact a Day About Brooklyn”, Brooklyn Eagle April 9 1939
[2] Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Nov 1897 Page 4
[3] “H.B. Upjohn Dead: Church Designer,” New York Times, Aug. 24, 1949, p. 26.
[4] Real Estate record and builder’s guide v. 109, no. 2, January 14, 1922, page 57
[5] Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 15, 1922
[8] NYC’s 10 biggest preservation battles of 2018 2 Take a look back at some of the biggest fights to save New York City’s past in 2018, Curbed NY, By Tanay Warerkar Dec 17, 2018