10 September 2007

Patrick Charles Keely, the UnCelebrated

Following the procession of Santa Maria Addolorata made me think of St. Stephen's Church, a Carroll Gardens landmark, which made me think of architect Patrick Charles Keely, who gets no respect in most architectural circles these days but has shaped my (and, I imagine, many Brooklynites') daily aesthetic life in a fairly profound way.

Richard Upjohn is the man who gets the kudos around these parts. He built Christ Church in Cobble Hill, Grace Church and Our Lady of Lebanon Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights, and a host of lovely others, all benefiting from the reflected glory of having been built by the man who shaped the soaring Trinity Church of lower Broadway—one of New York's four or five great houses of worship. On top of that, Upjohn lived in a building on the corner of Clinton and Baltic, making him a local boy (his birth in English notwithstanding).

Keely has no divine Trinity Church to his credit, and thus dwells well within the long shadow of Upjohn. But, for what he lacks in reputation and genius, he made up for in productivity. The man never stopped building churches: here, in Boston, in Chicago, in Erie, in Watertown, Wisconsin, for pete's sake. After his design for the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Williamsburg wowed the masses, this fine Irish boy from Tipperary was every Catholic Church's first choice. He is said to have built as many as 700 such temples.

Brooklyn, of course, had scads of Catholic immigrants, and they wanted Keely bad. And so I wake up to St. Stephen's steeple, soaring over the BQE. Further up the highway, at Warren and Hicks, St. Peter's Our Lady of Pilar Church mourns its new life as a condo village. St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church's hulking mass is unavoidable on the south stretch of Court. And you won't escape Patrick on quiet Sidney Place, where his St. Charles Borromeo (above)—raging brick-red like so many Keely churches—waits to surprise you. (The enormous St. Agnes' on Hoyt and Sackett was actually built by his son-in-law Thomas F. Houghton!)

The AIA guide considers Keely no match for Upjohn. I'd have to agree. His churches are functional, and are by no means ugly, but they lack poetry or grace. They're earthbound. Keely's a journeyman, essentially. But the man tried. He worked hard. And he gave Brooklyn churches where the people needed them. I'd name a street after him if I could; it's the least he deserves. But I hear the city's started to crack down on that practice.


Anonymous said...

Patrick Keely also designed St. Brigid's on Avenue B, which the community is trying to save from demolition by the archdiocese. St. Brigid's looks a lot like the one pictured above.

Anonymous said...

Keely lived in Brooklyn for most of his adult life, I believe, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. He also did the magnificent (and now boarded-up) St. John the Baptist RC Church in Bed-Stuy, a personal fave.