The Spaceship Church In Queens

Seeing the blue onion dome from a distance, you’d probably assume St. Nicholas to be your typical Russian church.


But take a drive down Clintoneville Ave, and you’ll realize the truth…


Someone has landed a spaceship in Queens and disguised it as a Russian Orthodox church.


Without question, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church of Whitestone, Queens is one of my favorite churches in New York City, in part because I’ve simply never seen anything like it.


The roof is covered in reflective aluminum (?) panels, which not only serve to catch your eye from the ground…


…but also create an amazing metallic cruciform when viewed from the sky:


Topping the structure off is an onion dome painted in the most brilliant shade of blue I’ve ever seen on this type of church (perhaps cleverly hiding a laser canon?):


But it’s not just the roof that makes you feel St. Nicholas is about to blast off. The facade is covered in unusual curves and angles that give it a futuristic feel, a sort of Russian Orthodox by way of Star Wars blast doors motif:


St. Nicholas was designed by architect Sergei Padukow and built in 1968, replacing a wooden church that had been standing on the site since 1919. I came across it the very first time I had to scout Queens years ago, and I’ve always loved visiting it ever since:


A side entrance, with an interesting door overhang:


Another fantastically interesting design on a second side entrance…


…framing both a wooden door and a vent (for engine exhaust, of course):


The front of the church, as seen from the street:


And one final surprise hidden in the rear of the church: the flight deck altar is similarly wrapped in a steel finish:


And with all the silver coating to the building, you have to admit…


…this is a pretty appropriate rectory vehicle:


The interior of the church is more traditional than the outside. Unfortunately, the doors were locked when I passed by on Friday, but you can take a tour on the St Nicholas website here (thanks, r185):

Picture Courtesy St Nicholas – Click for the full gallery!

If you’re in the neighborhood, definitely make it a point to walk by 14-65 Clintonville Ave and see St. Nicholas in person. With its gleaming steel roof and stucco white walls, it’s near impossible to take a bad picture of it.

Just watch out if you hear the engines firing up.


PS – You know it’s gotta be special if Forgotten-NY creator Kevin Walsh chose to feature it on the back cover of his book!

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  1. I love that you made a comparison to ‘Star Wars blast doors.’ I got what you meant instantly . 🙂

  2. A cross between a space ship and an airplane hangar with windows.

  3. so alien !!!!!! love the blue onion !

  4. The title of this piece reminded me of the famous Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, fondly known to the locals as ‘Paddy’s Spaceship’:

  5. I grew up blocks from here! I’m glad it’s still there.

  6. Blue domes are normal in Dayton, Ohio. 🙂

  7. The spaceship deco look apparently was the rager for a while, since one of the Orthodox churches here in NH, St George, is similarly funky:

  8. I suspect it’s particularly striking when the sun is low.

  9. A great find! I really like the architecture here, and great photos, too!

  10. St. Nicholas belongs to an American offshoot of the main Russian Orthodox Church. You can tell because it has pews. “Orthodox” Orthodox churches are standing-room-only.

  11. Very strange! It also reminds me of a Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a giant three-way plug.

  12. Wow, I can’t believe that was built in 1968 – it looks like it went up yesterday. Very cool!!

  13. That is absolutely stunning, in every sense of the word. I can’t believe it isn’t used more as an exterior location–that is cah-RAZY.

  14. Boy is that church ugly!

  15. To me it looks more like they built it using some oversizeda couple of ham cans rather than a spaceship ;^)

  16. Sunday Liturgy is a 10AM (9:30, July and August).
    Come and pray with us. All services are in English. All are welcome.
    Fr. Joseph

  17. I grew up in a heavily Eastern European part of Greater Cleveland where we have lots of Ukrainian, Serbian and some Russian and Greek Orthodox and Byzantine churches. I like the interior of this one, but that outside is odd looking. And I’ve never seen a blue dome before. Hmm, this is making me want to go to a fish fry.

  18. This is one of our favorite bits of architecture in Queens! It does look somewhat like a spaceship, but we can’t get over the fact that the entrance looks like a face! We agree with Tracy, the inside is nice but it sure does not match the outside. There appears to be a couple different design influences applied to this structure.

  19. Another fine looking churc is show here, nicknamed, Our Lady of Maytag.