Plans to demolish landmarked West-Park Presbyterian Church on hold
A historic Upper West Side church lives to fight another day. The West-Park Presbyterian Church on Friday withdrew its request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish the 19th-century Romanesque Revival building at Amsterdam Avenue and West 86th Street. The congregation could not afford the estimated $50 million in urgent repairs needed at the 135-year-old property and sought permission from the commission to demolish the landmarked building with the hopes of selling it to a developer. The church’s application was withdrawn ahead of a vote by LPC scheduled for this Tuesday, but the congregation said it will resubmit in the future.
After decades of spending the majority of its resources on maintaining the deteriorating building, church leadership voted in 2020 to sell the building. In 2022, the congregation announced plans to appeal their landmark designation, granted by the LPC in 2010, under the hardship provision. According to the church, engineering and construction experts estimate the repairs to cost nearly $50 million. Critics of the demolition plan questioned that estimate.
If the LPC approved the application to allow for the demolition, the church said it would sell the property to Alchemy Properties, which would build a mixed-use building with apartments and retail, as well as a facility for the church.
The plan to demolish the historic church, designed in 1889 by Henry Kilburn, faced backlash from preservationist groups and some community members, even garnering the attention of celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, and Amy Schumer.
In a statement released Friday, the congregation said it would resubmit its application after resolving “unrelated litigation concerning the expired lease of the building’s tenant.” The non-profit community group the Center at West Park is the current majority leaseholder.
“We plan to resubmit our application to the LPC when the litigation is resolved so that we can finally invest in the modern, accessible worship and community space that the Upper West Side deserves and further support our mission in our neighborhood and across New York City.”
“We are confident that the hardship analysis presented in the application is accurate, as affirmed by independent reviews, meets the requirements of the Landmarks Law, and will ultimately be approved by the Commission.”
The church will have to restart the process of submitting a hardship application to the LPC, including public hearings.
The Center at West Park opposes the congregation’s plan to demolish the church. In August 2022, the church sued the nonprofit to evict them on the grounds “that the 2017 agreement was signed without approvals required by the New York State Religious Corporations Law,” according to West Side Rag.
According to the church, the Center was given a below-market rental rate in exchange for fundraising for repairs, which the congregation claims it never did. But Debby Hirshman, the executive director of the Center at West Park, told 6sqft the group raised $1.43 million in funding and completed $270,000 in renovations in 2023, while offering “a full slate of programming and events.”
Hirshman added: “Just imagine what we can accomplish now that we don’t have to fight immediate threats of demolition!”
The suit against the Center is ongoing.
The Historic Districts Council, which supports preserving the landmarked church, said the withdrawal of the hardship applications saves the building from immediate demolition.
“HDC has steadfastly maintained that the applicant did not meet the hardship threshold,” Frampton Tolbert, executive director at HDC, said in a statement.
“HDC looks forward to supporting the continued active use of the space for religious use, and its ongoing reuse for arts and culture by its current tenant so it can continue to serve the community for generations to come.”