The Former St. Elias Church, the iconic 1870 landmark brick building at 145 Kent Street, is going to be a monster single-family home if developers have their way. The church has been sitting vacant for more than a decade. In 2007, Hirsch Enterprises, a company specializing in church conversions, purchased the property for $3.5 million, hoping to cash in on the red-hot local property market, but it has yet to see a return on its investment.
The former Russian-Catholic Rite church offers a huge interior covering 13, 800 square feet, but the property has proven difficult to develop and sell for a number of reasons. The church is landmarked and any development that alters the gorgeous façade must be approved by the landmarks commission. Did we also mention the $7.1 million price tag, which might inhibit all but wealthy buyers?
The building’s history is intertwined with the Bliss family who founded Greenpoint. Neziah Bliss and his wife Mary Meserole Bliss, who was a lifelong congregant of the Reformed church, became fantastically wealthy from their development of Greenpoint real estate; the devout Mrs. Meserole Bliss yearned to build a truly elegant structure. She turned to a renowned Brooklyn architect William Ditmars, who also designed the stately Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights and the former Beth Elohim Synagogue on Keap Street.
Ditmars constructed the amazing façade of the elegant brick structure in both early Romanesque and high Victorian styles, featuring beautifully banded arches at the windows and doors flanked by naturalistically carved column capitals. The focus of the Church, though, is the pedimented entrance portico located in the center of the façade and two flanking porticos on either side. Maybe the former church’s most impressive feature, though, is a stunning large wheel window, which dominates the upper portions of the church’s façade. Narrow round-arched windows added further to the façade’s elegance.
Next to the church is a stunning Sunday school structure, designed to resemble a medieval Italian baptistery like the famous one in Florence. The angled front facade was designed to give the illusion of an octagonal building, although in reality, it only extends into the building lot. The gorgeous façade and Sunday school were deemed worthy of landmark status, which probably saved the church from demolition, but made it something of an architectural white albatross, making its conversion to residential use expensive and problematic and delaying its remodeling for years.
The Dutch Reformed Church with a dwindling congregation left the building in the 1940s and moved to its present home on Milton Street. They sold the church to a Russian Rite Catholic group, but the congregation also dwindled and the building ended up on the market but found no buyers.
Reportedly, the actor Mickey Rourke once considered buying the property, but balked. Will the high price tag and landmark restrictions continue to scare away potential buyers for another decade? Only time will tell.