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17 Years in the Making: Grand Brooklyn Cathedral Registered as Historic Place

St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral—which dates back to 1895—has made it to the State Register of Historic Places.
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Photo: St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral / Supplied

Sometimes good things take time.

Last week — 17 years after the idea was first raised — Brooklyn's St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral was finally being added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

"Word is getting around, it's exciting, it's a great honor," St. Nicholas Cathedral's Father Thomas Zain said of the news Monday.

"Especially for the people who grew up here and who have been part of that community for many, many years. To see that recognition, and hopefully some good can come of it."

The St. Nicholas Cathedral church community dates back to about 1895, when Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians from various Middle Eastern countries came together under Father Raphael Hawaweeny, a bishop born in Beirut.

The first church was in a loft in an area of Lower Manhattan then known as Little Syria.

With Arabic-speaking settlers moving to Brooklyn, the church moved over the bridge to Pacific Street in 1902. In 1920, the church moved to its current location at 355 State Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

Father Thomas Zain. Photo: Photo: St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral / Supplied

Zain said the process for recognition on the State and National Historic Places began 17 years ago, when Ann Friedman from the New York Landmarks Society came to talk to him about the church, its unique character and history.

They started the registration process, then it died out and was forgotten until later getting picked up by a college intern who needed to do a project, Father Zain said.

After a long process, Friedman ended up putting together the proposal, and someone else finished it. In the end, it was more than 70 pages long.

"God bless the people who did it and put it together," Father Zain said.

Last week, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the state Board for Historic Preservation had recommended adding 19 properties to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The cathedral was the only New York City site to be added in the latest nominations. The other nominees include a "castle" built by Catskill Mountains photographer and aviator Otto Hillig, a Buffalo bakery that helped introduce Wonder Bread to America and a community library in the Adirondacks.  

The state has accepted the recommendation, and the church is currently waiting to see if it is also added to the national register.

A listing on the State and National Registers listing can assist owners in revitalizing properties, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services.

Examples include matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. 

Governor Hochul's office said, over the past decade, the state has approved the use of rehabilitation commercial tax credits for more than 1,000 historic properties, driving more than $12 billion in private investment. 

The church features beautiful stained glass windows and a stone exterior. Inside, the iconography pretty much covers all the walls.

Father Zain hoped the historic places recognition would help the church win grants to repair the stained glass windows, which can be very specialized and expensive.

But right now, they're looking forward to a simpler symbol of recognition.

"We'll be able to put a plaque eventually somewhere on the outside of the building," Father Zain said. "It's exciting."

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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