The landmark neighborhood of Clinton Hill, designated in 1984, is the proud home to some of the most remarkable late 19th century architecture in New York. Developed in the 1840’s as a suburban retreat, many of the city’s affluent invested in the neighborhood where the works of prominent architects cycled through Greek Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire, and into Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, and the Beaux-Arts, then back into the Colonial Revival. One of five significant churches in the neighborhood, Brown Memorial Baptist provides a community anchor and diversity to a district ever affected by gentrification as Clinton Hill, Fort Green, and Bedford Stuyvesant continue to see the effects of neighborhood change and large scale development at nearby Atlantic Navy Yards.
Ebinezer L. Roberts designed the Early Romanesque Revival facade in 1860 for the Washington Avenue Baptist congregation. In 1929, the space was sold to a Seventh Day Adventist congregation who remained in the location until 1958. The Brown Memorial Baptist congregation, founded in 1916, purchased the building in 1958 and has since been the stewards of its restoration. Red brick with decorative limestone accents, with large curve arched openings at the porch entryway, are welcoming and distinctive for their time period. Perhaps the most dominant feature of the structure is the massive square tower and corbelled lace brick work at the roof eaves. Notable Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows, “The Pilgrims,” depict the struggles of leaders of the abolition movement and workers of the underground railroad; a nod to Clinton Hill’s past as a hotbed of abolitionist activity. It is these eleven stained-glass panels that Brown Memorial Baptist Church hopes to restore through grants from Partners in Preservation.
A recent winner of the 2012 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, Brown Memorial Baptist was recently reopened to an enthusiastic congregation after two years of structural roof repairs. With unstable vaults and leaks throughout, Li Saltzman Architects provided direction to repair and restore the interior vaulted ceiling to its original appearance. Beginning in 2001 the roof trusses, plaster ceiling and stained glass windows were stabilized, allowing further conditions assessments to be made as the congregation raised funds. Later, with the support of Sacred Sites a non-profit associated with the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the congregation would take steps to further watertight the building structure by replacing the roof, and associated drainage systems, as well as capping the tower and providing new pointing at facade exteriors.
Having secured the exterior of the building from the elements, the congregation began the restoration of the sanctuary in 2009. Removal of blue paint would reveal an imitation stone plaster ceiling in need of repair. The restored ceiling, reminiscent of great cathedrals interiors, would brighten and reinvigorate the sanctuary space. After more than ten years of work, Brown Memorial Baptist continues to restore the church to its original splendor.
Additional information from New York City Landmark Preservation Commission, Andrew Dolkart, Clinton Hill Historic District Designation Report.
Brown Memorial Baptist Church [Map]
484 Washington Avenue
New York, NY 11238
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