28 July 2009

Christian Memorial No More

No. 236 President Street is a curious structure, one of the oddest buildings in Carroll Gardens. It's wholly out of keeping with the brick and brownstone dwellings that surround it.

Sturdy, four-square, ghostly white with a brooding black cornice (which lists its birthday as 1897) and adorned with various classical architectural touches, it looks a little like a giant mausoleum. It's handsome, but also overbearingly gloomy.

For a long time, I assumed it had begun life as some sort of pompous carriage house. Then, last year, I discovered that its grand, four-story, brick neighbor (now an apartment building) has once been the Faculty Home of the Methodist Episcopal Church, owned by the now-gone Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Willoughby and Clermont Avenue. It, too, was erected in 1897, so I thought, perhaps, that the two buildings might be related—even though they look nothing like each other.

Then, recently, I found another piece to the puzzle. Passing by one day as the light was hitting the doorway of 236 just right, I noticed a patch of the wall above the front door wasn't as smooth as it ought to have been. I looked closer. Some carved letters seems to have been scraped away from the edifice. On the left one could make out what used to be the word "Christian." On the right, "Memorial." "Christian Memorial." It had been a religious building.

Checking with DOB, a 1949 Certificate of Occupancy lists the inside as containing a sanctuary, Chancel, Pastor's Room and classrooms.

But it was not a memorial to all Christians, just one specific Christian: Hans S. Christian, a Norwegian immigrant.

According to this helpful site, 236 President Street was the Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarden, built in honor of a successful lime and brick dealer who was born in Norway in 1825 and moved to Brooklyn. His factory was on the Gowanus Canal at Second Street. He died in 1896. He was for many years president of the board of trustees of the First Place M. E. Church. He actually dropped dead after returning from a Wednesday evening prayer meeting, in a snow storm. He lived at 231 President Street.

Amazing what's hiding in plain site if you look hard enough. A shame about those scraped-away letters.


c'รจ montessori said...

Great discovery detective! Our city is truly wonderful, thanks for helping to show us the depth of that wonder!

Francis Morrone said...

But the two structures are related, no? They are both there because of Mrs. Hans Christian, who presumably had 236 built in the same year (1897) that she donated 238 (which is actually an 1850s house).

Brooks of Sheffield said...

You may be right, Francis. But why would the widow donate the building to a church to which she had no affiliation? I don't think we've heard the last of these two properties.

Francis Morrone said...

Brooks, both buildings were affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. I presume the Hans Christians worshipped at the nearby First Place M.E. but donated the house at 238 to Simpson M.E., which was probably a larger church with need of such facilities.

Now, if she'd donated one of them to the Catholics, that would seem weird to me.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I see. You're right. He was affiliated with the First Place M.E. Upon further research, I see Widow Christian did donate 238 as well. So they're related in that way.

By the way, the Christians lives at 231 President Street.

Phil said...

Hi - I live in 238. Francis is right that the building dates back to the 1850s. I think the lettering on the arch over the entrance to 238 says Factor's Home, not Faculty Home, but we've let a rose bush overgrow it and I need to check. In the 1920's, 238 was the "Brooklyn Deaconess Home and Training School of the Methodist Episcopal Church." I've heard that 236 was built in what used to be the garden of 238, but don't know for sure. 238 was renovated and co-op'ed in the early 1980s. Let me know if you'd like to come by for a visit. The top two floors don't have much detail left; some of the others do.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Phil: I would very much like to see the inside of 238! Thanks for the offer. Can I come sometime this weekend? Please contact me at lostcitybrooks@gmail.com.