26 April 2011

Inside the Luso-American Cultural Center—At Last

This building has driven me crazy for ten years. I have posted often about it—about it's long past; it's mysterious present; its forever locked door; my inability to learn much about the folks who own and run it. Once I almost got it, but the superintendent wouldn't let me in for fear of law suits.

But last Saturday, I ran some errands I didn't intend to, and took a route I hadn't planned. And when I walked by the red-brick former church, lo and behold: It was open! There was some sort of affair going on inside. DJ and buffet table. This time I didn't ask permission. I barged right in and took a look around.

First some background. Luso means Portuguese, making this structure one of the last remnants of the Portuguese, seafaring people that once lived in the streets of Red Hook near the docks.

The squat, sweet little house of worship was built 1878 as German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul, which was founded in 1872 and first dwelled on Columbia Street. It's pastor was Rev. Robert Neumann. There was a big power struggle between Neumann and the church's trustees in 1877. They claimed he lacked vigor and wasn't building up the congregation and its finances; they wanted to bring in Rev. Riechter. Neumann protested he has lifelong tenure. The trustees, responding in a particularly un-Christian way, locking Neumann out on several occasions. This caused the congregation to become disenchanted and leave in droves.

The building had an organ made by Hook & Hastings of Boston. It hasn't been a church for some time. The Luso-American Cultural Center has had possession of the building for 68 years.

As the pictures above attests, the interior today is unprepossessing. It's churchy elements have been sanded away. The floor looks newish and the ceiling has been lowered (note the decapitated windows in the back). No light gets in; the windows are all filled in. There is still a small stage at the back of the main hall, framed by a proscenium, and backed by an odd mural or some castle or other. And a wooden staircase near the entrance leads to an office that I think may have been a small balcony in its day. Near this stairway an American and a Portuguese flag stands.

To the right of the stage is a set of small stairs which climb up to a small back office/kitchen/whatsit. There's a cool little bar back here and some windows that let in light. The bathrooms are vintage 1930s, with tile floors and wooden stalls. Not much to look at in all, perhaps. But it got me excited. I wish I could see what's hidden above those acoustical tiles.

Here's a picture of the church many years ago.


Stephen Conti said...

My family used to rent it out in the early 70s on Christmas eve for out family dinner..... We lived on 3rd place around the corner and our house was too small to hold the 40+ cousins.... Everytime I pass this building I am reminded of those few Xmas eve nights!!!!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

That sounds like a beautiful memory. What was the interior like in those days?

I'd like to rent the place for an occasion myself.

Georgia Kral said...

Wow! So great you finally got in! Thanks for taking pics and sharing!

mingusal said...

The family who sold us their house in Park Slope many years ago were Potuguese and there were fliers and ads for events at this place used as shelf liners, etc. From what I saw, I believe their daughter had her wedding reception there sometime in the 1960s. Their children had all moved to New Jersey or Staten Island though. The Montero Bar on Atlantic, to whose owners they were related, is another remnant of the Portuguese presence in what was formerly collectively known as South Brooklyn.

Christine @ Quasi Agitato said...

I was so happy to find this post. I'm heading to a birthday party there tonight and will be very interested to see the inside in person.

Cathy said...

Just found this site. My great grandparents were married in this church in 1894, but I had not been able to separate it out from the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was primarily a German neighborhood at that time from what I have been able to find. Would love to find where the Lutheran church records are??? Thanks so much for posting this.
Cathy in SC