Community Coalition Seeks Landmark Status for Flatbush Presbyterian Church

1922 Rendering of Flatbush Presbyterian Church (Image: The Brooklyn Library)

FLATBUSH – In the December issue of Bklyner we wrote about the history of the 120-year-old Flatbush Presbyterian Church, and how it is likely to be redeveloped into housing, with space for a new church facility, under the current zoning regulations.

Respect Brooklyn, a group of concerned Brooklyn residents, has filed an emergency request with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to request that they designate and landmark the Flatbush Presbyterian Church at 494 East 23rd Street and Foster Avenue in Brooklyn as an individual landmark.

In their request, residents argue that:

“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”. A chapel in the English Gothic style was constructed by architect John J. Petit in the year 1898, as one cornerstone shows.

The two number “8”’s of the year being carved as an ichthys – the proverbial Jesus fish. (Photo: Respect Brooklyn)

The 1922 addition was designed by a member of “one of America’s oldest architectural dynasties,” 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. “
Petit’s possibly most famous work in Brooklyn, the Frederick and Loretto Kolle House, aka the Japanese House is not far at 131 Buckingham Road, in the Prospect South Historic District.

Respect Brooklyn points out that the inclusion of a profile of the Church’s building was in the prestigious Architectural Forum journal in 1925 indicated that it was considered an “architectural masterpiece even then”.

There are few individual landmarks in the Flatbush/Midwood/Parkville area, especially compared to other parts of the city. Of the six individually designated buildings, four were designated half a century ago, in the 1960s and 70s, with the most recent landmark – the Avenue H Station House designated in 2004.

Neighbors advocating for preservation are also concerned that the building lacks advocates because the Flatbush Presbyterian Church congregation no longer exists – it was dissolved on October 2, 2018.

The Church building is at risk of being demolished or, at the very least, gutted to accommodate the borough’s housing needs. With no landmark preservation to protect its 19th-century stonework, developers can renovate with no restrictions.

Colliers International, a Canadian acquisition and brokerage firm, has listed the church at 494 E. 23rd St. as a potential development site.

It touts a “unique opportunity” to acquire the underdeveloped lot, that can be developed into 16,000 square feet of residential housing – nearly five times more – as of right, with no special approvals by the city. Since the property was listed by Collier’s International, Respect Brooklyn argues the city needs to act quickly to preserve Brooklyn’s architectural heritage.

If the future developer incorporates a community facility – a church will qualify – they can potentially build out to 28,920 square feet. Flatbush Presbyterian Church at 475 Riverside Dr. owns of the property, and the market value is assessed at $1,199,000.

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Liena Zagare

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  1. How much will repairs cost? Too many churches. It looks pretty but is basically useless. Put it back on the tax rolls and get some worthwhile use out of it.

  2. Glad to read about this issue and the preservation effort. If this is not something that should be landmarked then who knows what is. That stone, built over 120 years ago, seems clearly worthy of designation.

  3. I’m a resident that lives less than 4 doors away from this church.

    First, Prospect Park South and the Japanese house are clear across Victorian Flatbush. PPS is the northernmost neighborhood and South Midwood, the Victorian neighborhood adjacent to the church is the southernmost of the Flatbush Victorian neighborhoods. The walk is about 1.25 miles according to google.

    Which leads me to the fact that none of my neighbors are advocating for this as the church has long been held and utilized by groups outside the community. There has long been friction between residents and the commuting church goers as they often parked in our driveways and cursed us if we questioned them or got their cars ticketed. This advocacy has come wholly from those outside of South Midwood and this specific southern corner of Flatbush proper. Moreover, it was hard to drum up sympathy when all they needed was a million and their bishop and clergy drive a fleet of cars that cost a 100k or more. Their bishop took special pride in parking his special edition Land Rover Range Rover Sport prominently on the hydrant just a half block from the church – for the entire day every week. No care for us in our wood frame houses – and no regard for the dozens of tickets he’s accumulated.

    So it was really hard for the congregation to convince locals while going door to door this summer that they had a financial problem in light of their clergy’s spending and scofflaw behavior. They did try to motivate South Midwood to save the church and our homeowners roundly said no. That is why they dissolved.

    As for the zoning numbers – our community of homeowners are directly responsible for that. In 2009, we rallied when Bloomberg proposed a rezoning and had all the victorian neighborhood propers down zoned as we conceded upzoning on the adjacent thru streets – hence the potential to build up to 28k sqft with the MIH allowances. There were no groups advocating against us. Precisely because the nature of the apartment buildings surrounding the structure and the unincorporated areas of Flatbush in general are transient.

    As for the rarity of the building – 2 dozen churches were constructed during the build-up in turn of the century Flatbush. Actual long lived residents will point to two churches as the finest stone structures – Holy Innocence and St. Marks on Ocean Ave. Both of which are still utilized by their original communities.

    There are few landmark buildings in Greater Flatbush – because it’s dominated by residential wood frame homes and brick townhouses that are younger than a century. And many of those homes have been protected by the down zoning of 2009 and the community landmarks that existed for the most elite enclaves well before 2009. Everything else is post ww1 tenements or attached townhouses along the major thoroughfares. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to someone that lives in one of the towns in Brooklyn proper (park slope, clinton hill, dobro) or Manhattan for that matter. But our neighborhood is a pretty boring suburb. There aren’t many landmark worthy buildings because it was all built at the same time for the most part as many a modern suburb has been. And we’ve already ensured the defining of character of the place has been preserved: the victorian homes.

    What this all amounts to is outside forces trying to preserve a church no one from the community wants on land that can easily house a dozen market rate families potentially and another half dozen needy families if MIH allowances are taken up. There are better things to fight for – this is a stupidity tax on new arrivals to Flatbush.

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