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Farewell to A Former House of Worship in Brooklyn

Ellen Levitt

Posted on April 2, 2019 20:10

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I have been documenting the last days of a building that was built as a synagogue, then housed a church, and has now been torn down to build condos.

Go just about anywhere in Brooklyn, New York and you will encounter new construction projects: high rise apartment buildings, single-family homes, commercial establishments, and more. Many other buildings are undergoing renovations big and small. All this work is a mixed blessing in a variety of ways: there are many jobs created by all this industriousness, and it makes Brooklyn a hub of activity and real estate clout. But it also brings noise, traffic snarls, and other nuisances. Some new structures end up blocking the views of older buildings. Rental and sale prices have risen, even in the poorer neighborhoods. Some people cannot afford to stay in Brooklyn. 

I work in the neighborhood of Prospect Heights, northeast of Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanic Gardens. I drive and walk around Prospect Heights and marvel at the many buildings being fixed up and built, but at times the noise, smells and dirt generated by all this production is quite jarring.

There are many pretty vintage row houses as well as intriguing modern apartment buildings in the neighborhood, but one building has had a special attraction for me. And as of this morning, this once-beautiful building is gone.

At 554 Prospect Place, between Classon and Franklin Avenues, there was a 1920s-era building called Temple Isaac. It was home to a Jewish congregation and located across the street from the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. The building was notable for its pretty front entrance with an arch, a half-rose stained glass window, nice brickwork and attractive large side windows. It was designed by the architect Martyn Weston, who also designed two other Brooklyn synagogues.

The demographics of the Temple Isaac neighborhood changed, as did neighborhoods in other parts of Brooklyn, and in 1972 a church group named Faith Chapel Baptist Church moved into #554. Then in 2016 the church vacated the building and it sat empty.

I had visited it with two different bicycle tour groups when it was a church, and one time when it was already vacated by the Christian group (although I had not known they were gone; the door was open and I ventured inside). It was a bittersweet sight by then, a mixture of Judaica, Christian ritual items, and a messy, rotting lower level.

Then late in 2018 I noticed a sign heralding its upcoming demolition, and official NYC permits explaining what kind of work would be done. An acquaintance arranged for me to visit inside, the morning of the dawning of the demolition. The building was cold and forlorn, and I took many photographs and a few videos of the interior in order to document the impending death of the building. I've watched the roof and walls being torn down. Every few days the building shrank in size, and I felt compelled to take photos.

This morning I saw that it was nothing but a pile of rubble, and I was deeply saddened. Just another old building, erased from the scene. Farewell, Old Temple.  

Ellen Levitt

Posted on April 2, 2019 20:10

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Source: NYU News

B rooklyn was not always the land of Smorgasburg and HBO's "Girls." Originally founded in the 1600s by Dutch settlers, Brooklyn...

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