A Brief History of the Building
(founded as Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, Woodhaven)
In 1900, St. Matthew's was organized as a mission of the Church of the Resurrection, Richmond Hill, to accommodate the growing population of the Brooklyn Manor section of Woodhaven. A storefront was rented on Jamaica Avenue near 91 st Street and became the mission's first home. First service was held on January 7, 1900. The Reverend Robert Kimber was appointed priest-in-charge.
Building lots on 96th Street were purchased from the Brooklyn Manor Construction Company on October 8, 1900 for the erection of small wooden church edifice. The cornerstone of the first building was laid on November 4,1900. First service in the wooden church was held on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1901. The first wedding in the wooden church took place on June 19, 1901. It was that of Miss Antoinette Wachs to Mr. G.B. Woodworth. The church was made a bower of daisies picked from the surrounding fields, well illustrating the affection the church fostered in this recently-settled community "in the daisy fields."
Parish hall was erected in 1907, aided by the generous contribution of Mr. Charles Napier and his sister, Miss Kate Napier, early benefactors of this parish.
The Rectory was built in 1915, according to plans which had won First Prize at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 as "Best Layout of a Clergyman's House."
In January 1926 the Vestry voted unanimously to raise funds for a new church building. Plans for such were drawn by the firm of Schimer and Schmidt, Architects, of Manhattan. Mr. Schimer, principal-in-charge, was a member of the Vestry. The last service in the small wooden church was held on September 21, 1927. Services were held in the parish house, which was converted into a chapel. The S L Day School met in Hillside Lodge F. & A. M. located next to the Rectory. Breaking of ground for the new church took place on October 1, 1927, and the cornerstone was laid on November 26, 1927. The first service in new stone church was held December 2, 1928, built by Fraser and Bereau. The church building was constructed in rural English Gothic style with a square bell tower housing a peal of five cast bells. The interior and exterior walls are constructed of gneiss, quarried in Pennsylvania and highlighted by a terra-cotta trim. Interior wooden trusses support a variegated-colored slate roof. Bishop Stires referred to the church as a "little cathedral."
The altar reredos and other wood carvings were supplied by the American Seating Company, under the direction of Alois Lang. ( Mr. Lang was at one time associated with the Oberamergau Passion Players. He is a cousin of Anton Lang, the "Christus" of the Passion Play for many years.) The original stained glass was executed by John E. Tarbox. In 1957, the remaining large nave windows depicting scenes in the life of Christ were installed by the J. Whipell Company of London, replacing original non-figurative windows of white and yellow glass. In the 1960's the 24 new clerestory windows were installed by the George L. Payne Studios of Paterson, New Jersey, depicting saints and bishops of the early church, as well as more modem heroes and heroines. The last two figures memorialized near the 96th Street wall are of Albert Schweitzer and St. Pope John XXIII.
The Baptismal font was moved to the center aisle near the rear of the church, and a lady chapel was installed in the original baptistery space.
The All Souls Columbarium was installed in 1989 in the south ambulatory aisle as a depository for the cremains of parishioners.
In 1988 a new Reuter pipe organ was installed. This was made possible from a bequest of Miss Cora Seiler, one time Altar Guild Directress for many years, and is known as the Seiler Memorial Organ.
In 2011, St. Matthew's Church was closed and the building remained unoccupied for nearly two years until 2013 when All Saints Church relocated from South Richmond Hill, where it had served that community since 1897. Several changes were made in preparation for the building's reconsecration as All Saints, Woodhaven. The nave was renovated and restored. The altar rail was removed from the chancel; the front pews were removed from the choir to increase space; and, new wood flooring was installed. The original wooden ad orientem high altar was shaved and pushed back, leaving only the façade which was converted into a retable. The high altar from Richmond Hill was placed at the east end of the chancel. A new chapel was created in the southwest corner of the nave. The nave reredos and chapel altar from the Richmond Hill church were attached to create a single altar piece. Portions of the altar rail originally in the chancel of St. Matthew's were installed in the chapel. On October 25, 2013, the church was reconsecrated as All Saints, Woodhaven and the chapel was consecrated as St. Matthew's Chapel. An icon of St. Matthew hangs in the chapel, a gift from All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC (the home parish of Fr. Norman Whitmire, Seventh Rector of All Saints). The space that was the original baptistery, and had served as the Lady Chapel for St. Matthew's Church, was converted into a Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Adorning the walls underneath each sconce are the Stations of the Cross from All Saints, Richmond Hill. The wooden columbarium was restored and several ashes were reinterred. Along the opposite wall hangs the brass columbarium from All Saints, Richmond HIll.
The 1915 Rectory was also renovated. The first floor was opened up to create a large living/dining area and a state-of-the-art kitchen. A new wood floor was installed.
The parish hall is scheduled to begin renovations in the fall of 2016, which will include the construction of a new business office, a rector's office, and a commercial kitchen. An elevator will be installed to make the parish hall fully accessible.
For historic photos of St. Matthew's, Woodhaven, click here.
(Original history written by Mr. Allan B. Smith. Edited and amended by Fr. Norman Whitmire)