Preservation Issues

City Council Confirms Designation of Ukrainian Church in Brooklyn

Williamsburg has another landmark now that the City Council has affirmed designation of the Ukrainian Church in Exile, Holy Trinity Cathedral. The vote followed a heated hearing of the City Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee on October 19. The Conservancy testified at the hearing where local Council Member Antonio Reynoso responded forcefully to Church officials who opposed the designation.

The building was among the earliest candidates for local landmark designation, and had been on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) calendar since 1966. As part of its backlog initiative the LPC voted unanimously to designate this past August.

City Council affirmation is required after the LPC vote. At the Council hearing, representatives of the Church claimed that designation would be an unwelcome burden and that the building was so significantly altered that it no longer merited designation. Council Member Reynoso countered that while there had been changes to the interior, the exterior was nearly identical to historic photographs, and that designation was unlikely to cause a financial hardship, while noting that the LPC has a process to consider hardship applications. Councilmembers Steve Levin, who represents parts of Williamsburg, and Ben Kallos of the Upper East Side also commented on the benefits of preservation in their districts. The Subcommittee vote was 5-0-1, and the full Council voted 50-0-1.

Completed in 1906 for the Williamsburgh Trust Co., the building is a stunning neo-Classical structure that sits at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. Helme, Huberty & Hudswell designed it with a terra cotta dome, Ionic porticos, and ornate trim, including balustrades and projecting anthemion. It is an excellent example of the “banking temples” of this era, which recalled ancient Greece and Rome. This design served the structure well in its next incarnations. After the bank’s collapse, the City re-used the building for the Fifth Magistrate’s Court. The court was disbanded mid-century, and in 1961 the Holy Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in Exile acquired the vacant courthouse and reversed a period of neglect with restoration. The façade’s classical allusions were a natural fit for a courthouse; the cross-shaped plan and dome are typical of Orthodox churches.

Conservancy testimony highlighted the building’s architectural and historic significance and offered financial and technical assistance from our Sacred Sites Program.