Friday, October 25, 2013

Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, Greenpoint Cathedral

Photo of church from across the street
Church of Saint Anthony of Padua
New York City Marathon runners with church in background
Church of St Anthony - New York City Marathon
Interior of main church building
Church of St Anthony Interior (photo source: Elisa P.)
Saint Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was a Portuguese Catholic Priest and frier of the Franciscan order. Built in 1875, St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenpoint is a quasi-cathedral designed in the Neo-Gothic style by prolific church architect Patrick C. Keely.[1] The church is clad in red brick and accented with limestone, adding distinction to the structure and giving it a gingerbread look. Towering over the neighborhood, the church's spire is perched atop the clock tower and reaches 240 feet above street level. I can hear the church's bells toll from my apartment four minutes past every hour. The dominant presence the Church of Saint Anthony has on Manhattan Avenue provides a visual anchor for the intersection of Milton Street and Manhattan Avenue.

Architect Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1898) lived and practiced in Brooklyn, designing many of the borough's ornate ecclesiastical structures. Keely's portfolio includes as many as 700 church buildings constructed in the northeast, south and midwest.[2] Some of Keely's other Brooklyn churches include: the Church of St. John the Baptist, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, St. Agnes Church, St. Patrick's Church, St. Stephen/Sacred Heart Church, St. Benedict Church and St. Peter's Church (now condos). Many of Keely's Brooklyn churches have been closed, burned or demolished.[3]
Looking at church from down the street
Church of St. Anthony of Padua-Neighborhood Context
Due to its height and distinct character this building is a local landmark providing a visual reference while navigating the neighborhood. This church was the first building in Greenpoint to make an impression on me. It became a distance marker for me when I used to ride the bus from Williamsburg to Long Island City along the journey from my first apartment in Bushwick to a friend's apartment in Astoria.
Main entrance showing ornamental doors
Church of Saint Anthony of Padua Main Entrance
Terra cotta tympanum above main entrance
Tympanum Over Main Entrance
Flanking the recessed door is a sculpture of Christ to the left and what I am guessing is a sculpture of either Saint Anthony or Saint Francis on the right. The tympanum (sculpture above the door) shows Jesus at the center of a biblical narrative.

Looking up at the spire from the main entrance
Looking Up at The Spire

1. White, Norval, Willensky, Elliot, and Leadon, Fran AIA Guide to New York. Oxford University Press, 2010.
2. "Symposium on architect Patrick C. Keely". (20 February, 2013) Online.
3. "Churches of Patrick C. Keely". Keely Society. Online.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Brooklyn Army Terminal

Building Entrance
Brooklyn Army Terminal Entrance
What was once used to move troops and supplies is now a space for commercial and light industrial use. The Brooklyn Army Terminal or 'U.S. Army Military Ocean Terminal' (1919) was originally built as a multi-modal shipping facility to serve the war effort during World War I but the war ended prior to the terminal's completion.[1] The building saw the most action during WWII when over 37,000 tons of supplies were ferried through the building and 56,000 military and civilian personnel were employed there.[2] The army terminal was built in response to the first world war and was the largest military supply base at the time. To meet the demands of a truncated design and construction schedule the Brooklyn Army Terminal is architecturally unique in style and in the scale of methods and materials used for its construction.

Main Building
Brooklyn Army Terminal
Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Brooklyn Army Terminal buildings were an architectural marvel having been built in an astounding seventeen months. In addition, the Terminal was the largest reinforced concrete construction project of its time. When the terminal was fully operational it received supplies by ship and rail. The supplies would be offloaded by crane, dropped onto one of the many balconies according to its destination country, which was painted on the wall, then processed. Cargo moving through the terminal never had to touch the ground while in the facility. While not nearly as tall as some of Cass Gilberts other structures, the Brooklyn Army Terminal is longer than the Wolworth building (designed by Cass Gilbert) is tall.[1]

Perspective view down train tracks inside building
Brooklyn Army Terminal Interior from Center of Building
During a time when romantic styles were still popular, the interior of this building looks more like 60s Brutalist architecture. Architect Cass Gilbert, who was better known for ornate Beaux Arts and Gothic Revival styles of architecture designed this building with function as the primary design determinant; so, the building is "appropriately austere".[3] Gilbert also designed the Austin, Nochols & Company Warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront that was recently converted into condos, as well as many other noteworthy buildings. While Cass Gilbert was the principal architect, Irving T. Bush, owner of neighboring Bush Terminal provided expertise relative to large scale shipping facility design.[1]

After WWII the shipping methods for which the building was deigned became outdated as new methods of shipping using shipping containers became widely used. However, the building complex was in use until the early seventies before closing and sitting empty until 1981 when it was purchased by the city of New York. The Brooklyn Army Terminal renovation that began in 1984 is nearly complete and to date all available commercial space is occupied by tenants.[1]

Sky bridge between Brooklyn Army Terminal buildings
Brooklyn Army Terminal Sky-Bridge

1. Tour. Open House New York (OHNY). Brooklyn. 12 October. 2013.
2. "History" Brooklyn Army Terminal. Online. 2013 
3. White, Norval, Willensky, Elliot, and Leadon, Fran AIA Guide to New York. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse 184 Kent Avenue

Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse
Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse As Seen from East River
Designed in the Egyptian Revival style by Cass Gilbert, the Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse was renovated a few years ago for use as a residential building. The warehouse almost met its demise in 2010 when developers were ready to build condos in its place. Of the condo buildings along the Williamsburg waterfront, this building has the most character and is the most contextually relevant new residential development due to its historic roots within the community. The building itself, although short by comparison to the new residential high rises adjacent to the site, has a large footprint taking up an entire block. It was difficult for me to appreciate the volume of space this structure occupies until I entered the building. 

Artwork in lobby of Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse
Art in the Renovated Building's Lobby
The interior of the building has been completely modernized with a contemporary interior design and modern amenities. The interior design of the lobby includes a cavernous entry with a large art installation and a set of stairs employing clean lines and a simple but elegant tapering form. The artwork in the lobby titled "New York Times Headlines (January 1, 1969-March 18, 1975)" by A.J. Bocchino was installed as part of a collaboration between the developer and the Brooklyn arts council. The residential units look like typical luxury apartments except for the exterior walls, columns and large concrete beams, all of which help retain some of the building's original character. I found the building's wayfinding system to be a little disorienting at first, however in the brief amount of time I spent in the building moving through the space was a pleasant experience. Although it was nice to get to see the new interior of this landmark, I wish that I had been able to see the original interior architecture of the building prior to its renovation.

Rental Unit in Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse
Interior of New Residential Unit
Cass Gilbert (1839-1934), the building's architect, was an influential architect of his time. Gilbert began his architectural career in 1879 in St. Paul Minnesota and eventually rose to prominence for his design of the Minnesota State Capital which was built in 1903. Some of the other notable work in Cass Gilbert's Portfolio include: U.S. Custom House (1907), Woolworth Building (1910-1913), Brooklyn Army Terminal (1919) and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. (1932-1935).[1] Gilbert was better known for his Gothic Revival and Beaux Arts style structures, although his two most prominent Brooklyn buildings were a departure from those styles. It would have been a little ironic had the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse been torn down to build high rises since Gilbert was a proponent of high rise architecture and designed what had once been the tallest building in the world.

Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse context photo
Austin, Nichols and Co. Waterfront Context
The warehouse was almost destroyed by one developer, the Kestenbaum family, who argued that the building was an eyesore and had no historic value. Both the Landmark's Preservation Commission and the Mayor disagreed but the city council voted to override them, allowing the developer to move forward with their plan to demolish the warehouse or alternatively add more stories to the original structure. Fortunately for the building, as well as the community, the original developer sold the building immediately after the city council's vote to J.M.H. Development. J.M.H. declined to demolish the warehouse or dramatically change the exterior character of the structure and instead renovated the building while turning over preservation responsibilities to the Trust for Architectural Easements.[2] I am not sure if the Austin, Nichols & Company Warehouse was preserved due to political pressure, the economic downturn happening at the time or whether the newer developer had a different vision for the building's future but I am glad J.M.H. decided to preserve building.

1. "Cass Gilbert History - Cass Gilbert Family History" (2001-2012) Online.
2. "At an Old Warehouse, A Reversal of Fortune" (9 Januray 2009) Online. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mechanics and Traders Bank

Mechanics and Traders Bank Building, 144 Franklin Street
Sitting on the northeast corner of Franklin Street and Greenpoint Avenue is the Mechanics and Traders Bank building. The Renaissance Revival style structure was designed by Alonzo B. Jones, architect and built in 1895.[1] This "brooding but glorious"[2] structure is embellished with rich architectural details and bold classical forms that cast striking shadows, highlighting the facade's design elements in stark relief. The rusticated brownstone of the first floor creates a solid visual base for the lighter appearance of the Pompeian red terra cotta and brick upper stories which are capped with an entablature that echoes the cornice line of the adjacent building. The term "Renaissance Revival", encompasses many 19th century classical Italian revival styles but this building does not maintain strict adherence to Renaissance period motifs. The large window arches are Romanesque and the oval windows are likely referencing classically inspired architecture from periods following the Renaissance.

Original Main Entrance
The Mechanics and Traders Bank building is a beautiful structure but the entrance design is a little perplexing. Building entrances are typically communicated architecturally. When you look at a building you usually know right away where the main entrance can be found even if you do not see it yet; however, the main entrance of this building looks more like a side entrance since it is located on the less dominant Franklin Street facade. To me it looks as if there is not a main entrance at all. As a designer, I suspect that the client insisted that the building entrance be located on Franklin Street due to the street's status as, what was then, the dominant commercial street in the neighborhood.

Mechanics and Traders Bank Building
Corner of Franklin Street and Greenpoint Avenue
The Mechanics and Traders Bank was founded in 1867, merged with the Corn Exchange Bank in 1902 which eventually merged with Chemical Bank; Chemical Bank later became Chase Manhattan which is now JP Morgan Chase. In addition to financial institutions the building was home to Polish organizations before being converted into residential units. This Land Mark designated building was originally built for $30,000 to house bank offices and lodge rooms.[3] Currently, the property value is listed at $882,000 and the latest rental unit listing I could find was $5,000 for a three bedroom unit that encompasses the entire second floor.

Mechanics &Traders Bank 2nd Floor Apartment Plan

Oval Window Framed with Terra Cotta Spandrels

Arched Window and Pilasters

Pictured here is one of the Romanesque arched windows showing the painted green mullions which visually stand out due to complimentary color scheme of red and green. Also shown are the Renaissance pilasters which are based on the Corinthian Order.

1. White, Norval, Willensky, Elliot, and Leadon, Fran AIA Guide to New York. Oxford University Press, 2010.
2. "Mechanics & Traders Bank." (10 November 2011) Online.
3. "Still Going Up" Brooklyn Eagle 18 May 1889.