St. Barbara’s R.C. Church, Brooklyn
Address: Central Avenue at Bleecker Street
Architect: Helmle & Huberty
LPC Action: Public Hearing in 1980
LPC Backlog Hearing: Prioritized for designation
Designated - December 13, 2016
St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church is instantly recognizable from all around for its exuberant ornament and for the soaring height of its towers, rising above low-rise Bushwick. The yellow brick building with white and cream terra-cotta trim features elaborate exterior massing with a grand dome and two 175-foot tiered towers. Its entrance bay resembles a triumphal arch, with columns and a rounded pediment. The interior is equally elaborate in its Baroque-inspired design, with statuary, carvings, frescoes and stained glass windows. Its architectural style has been described as Spanish Mission Revival or neo-Plateresque, but it is likely that Helmle & Huberty were influenced by German Baroque ecclesiastical architecture, given that St. Barbara’s served a congregation of German immigrants in its early years. The church is said to be named for Barbara Epping, the daughter of local brewer Leopold Epping, who donated funds to construct the church. Many of its German parishioners worked in the breweries in Bushwick, including Epping’s. The congregation evolved over the years to serve the area’s changing population of Italians and, more recently, Latin Americans.
LPC Statement of Significance:
Designed in 1907 by architects Helmle & Huberty, St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church is an early example of a building designed in the Spanish Mission Revival or neo-Plateresque style. Constructed of yellow brick and gleaming white terra cotta, the church towers above the low-rise residences of the surrounding area, and is the most prominent structure in Bushwick.
Founded in 1894 as a German Parish, St. Barbara's has served successive generations of immigrants. The present church building was designed by a leading turn-of-the-century Brooklyn architectural firm, Helmle & Huberty, who were responsible for many important public and institutional commissions. Their buildings were designed in a wide stylistic spectrum and include such notable works as the Boathouse in Prospect Park, the Shelter Pavilion in Monsignor McGoldrick Park, and St. Gregory's Roman Catholic Church.
It is the sumptuous Spanish Baroque or Plateresque detailing that is considered to give St. Barbara's its architectural importance. This neo-Plateresque style is unusual for a church in the northeastern United States, particularly one built as early as 1907. The Plateresque architecture of 17th century Spain combines large unornamented wall areas with sections that are embellished with highly ornate and complex classically-inspred forms. The entranceway is generally given the most ornate treatment on these buildings. The Plateresque style was brought to the New World by early Spanish settlers in Mexico and the American southwest. St. Barbara's is modeled after the mission churches built in these areas.
St. Barbara's follows the basic form of 17th-century Plateresque buildings. The church has a terra-cotta frontispiece in the form of a triumphal arch that gives emphasis to the main facade. This dramatic frontispiece is enlivened by projecting Corinthian columns, squat twisted columns, sculptural panels and bands, and a projecting rounded pediment. Heavy unornamented brick pavilions with terra-cotta quoins flank the entranceway, but these are crowned by decorated terra-cotta towers. The church is cruciform in plan and the facade of the north transept on Bleecker Street is designed as a small frontispiece. A large Renaissance-inspired dome covers the church crossing.
Located in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, St. Barbara's stands as a solid anchor in the neighborhood.