(photo from Diocese of Brooklyn website)
I'll hopefully add photographic evidence of this tonight or tomorrow, but it appears that the Church of St. Joseph on Pacific Street between Underhill and Vanderbilt is losing its towers as part of the extensive renovation and restoration the church is undergoing. The towers, which looked to be in a state of fairly severe disrepair before the scaffolding went up, are about halfway to being disassembled as of this morning, when I spied them on a run.
While I couldn't find more information about the renovation online or by calling the parish, the chatter on the comment thread at this site suggests that the building is being overhauled for a return to service as a parish church, and possibly as the new Cathedral of Brooklyn. The current cathedral (and also the borough's first Catholic Church), the Cathedral Basilica of St. James at Jay and Chapel Streets, is both on the smaller side and a long haul for many of the borough's Catholics, and as a result, many of the biggest services are now held in Sunset Park at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Moving the cathedral has been suggested before--Brooklyn's legendary Bishop Loughlin began work on one that becamse the parish church of St. John in Bed-Stuy--but why St. Joseph's, built in 1912 on the site of an earlier church organized in 1861, would earn the honor isn't clear.
The fight over preserving churches with dwindling congregations and fading physical plants is a thorny one. Yesterday, the Observer ran an article about the battle over the landmarking of a red-sandstone Presbyterian church on the UWS (the church was opposed to the move), and earlier today, Brownstoner posted a Brooklyn Eagle article about the fight to preserve Our Lady of Loreto in Ocean Hill. Preservationists make a strong case about the beauty of these buildings and their enduring architectural contribution to New York City's streetscapes. At the same time, they're expensive to maintain, difficult to sell in their current form, and even more difficult and expensive to repurpose. A few have become condos (which was the original plan on the UWS) and a few others have been sold to new congregations, but condos aren't rising right now and new churches can find cheaper, less-development-restricted spaces in old movie houses and union halls and the like. Without strong support form parishoners, church leaders say that preserving these elegant, empty halls isn't a good use of their funds--a building's beauty doesn't give sermons or provide services.
In a perfect world, the neighborhood groups that want these structures landmarked would also have great ideas for filling the spaces and managing the buildings. Sadly, they can't do this at the rate these buildings are closing, and the empty churches (and movie palaces, and union halls) that litter our urban landscapes may be evidence of a larger societal move away from the communal experience, be it the church dinner or the matinee, and into our own homes, where entertainment, local politics, and even worship can be conducted from a couch with a remote or a laptop.