Brooklyn structure: Sundown Park’s Beehive Dome
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.
St. Michael’s Tower rises above Sunset Park and can be seen for miles; Until recently, the church was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Raymond F. Almirall, the architect, studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and the church dome is reminiscent of the Byzantine-style domes of the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, built in 1884.
Most descriptions of the church at 4200 4th Avenue call the dome a beehive or bishop’s miter, and it seems to be unique among all of the many places of worship in the district.
A look at an archive photo reveals that there were originally four smaller domes surrounding the main tower and dome. It’s a shame they aren’t there anymore; they might have stopped some of the less flattering things that were said about this campanile.
Almirall is a major New York architect of the Beaux Arts period at the beginning of the 20th century. His Brooklyn work includes the original design for the main Brooklyn Public Library, which was later built on its foundation and side walls; the Bushwick branch; and three other branches of the library funded by Andrew Carnegie. He also designed the 7th Public Bath, also on 4th Avenue.
In Manhattan he is best known for his Emigrant Savings Bank building, now offices, and the Boss Tweed Courthouse. Both are great examples of Beaux-Arts, City Beautiful architecture.
Sunset Park has always been an immigrant neighborhood that grew in the mid-19th century due to a large influx of Irish, Polish, Norwegian and Finnish immigrants. The parish of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Michael was founded in 1870 by poor Irish immigrants who mainly worked in unskilled handicrafts in the shipyards and industrial areas near the docks.
By the turn of the century, the Irish population in Sunset Park had grown in number and their success in America had given many of the prosperity to the planting of four local churches.
St. Michael had also grown in numbers and wealth, and this new church was completed in 1905. Although the nearby Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help may be much larger, this church is still the landmark of Sunset Park.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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