Neo-classical Bank Building, Later Serving as a Courthouse and Church, Designated an Individual Landmark

Williamsburgh Trust Bank in Brooklyn. Image Credit: LPC.

Williamsburgh Trust Bank in Brooklyn. Image Credit: LPC.

Designation was opposed by Church that is the building’s current owner, while supported by local Council Member. On August 9, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Williamsburgh Trust Company Building, at 177 South 5th Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, as an individual City landmark. The Neo-classical building was originally constructed as a bank for the Williamsburgh Trust Company in 1906. It features two classical porticos and a sculptural relief over the main entrance. Intended to be free-standing, the building possesses four developed facades, clad in white terra cotta. Brooklyn-based architecture firm Helmle, Huberty and Hudswell, prominent for its work on institutional structures, designed the bank building.

The bank failed in 1910, and the City acquired the building. From 1916 until 1958, the building served to house the Magistrate’s Court for the Fifth District of Brooklyn. In 1961, the former bank was purchased by the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in Exile, who converted it into the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Originally added to Landmarks’ calendar in 1966, the building was the subject of a hearing on October 8, 2015, as part of the Backlog Initiative. At the hearing, a pastor of the Church testified in opposition to designation, claiming the landmarking would impose a financial burden on the congregation, and have a “negative psychological impact” on parishioners. He further stated that the building would have been demolished in the 1960s had the Church not occupied it. Designation was supported by preservationists, and local Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

At the August meeting, Landmarks’ Director of Special Projects Lisa Kersavage testified that Landmarks staff had reviewed materials submitted by the Church regarding the building’s unworthiness for landmark status, and the financial burden designation would impose. Staff found the materials unpersuasive, and recommended to the commission that the building be designated

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that the landmarking of religious structures raised complex issues, and that houses pf worship varied in their means, programmatic needs, and ability to maintain historic fabric. Srinivasan said the commission would work with the church, “in partnership,” and had reached out to alleviate their concerns regarding designation. Srinivasan added that the building was “just amazing,” and that she had assumed it was already a landmark when she first encountered it. Commissioner Michael Goldblum commented that the City could do more to help religious institutions “reap the benefits of their development rights.”

Commissioner voted unanimously to designate.

LPC:  Williamsburgh Trust Company Building, 177 South 5th Street, Brooklyn (LP-0163) (Aug. 9, 2016).

By:  Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)


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