City Council Designates West Park Presbyterian a Landmark

by - May 13, 2010 at 1:02 am -

westpark2West Park Presbyterian, the church at 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue that has had church members and preservationists at each others’ throats for months is now a landmark, courtesy of the New York City Council. Preservationists hailed Wednesday’s vote as a victory for New Yorkers. But church leaders said the designation, which went against the wishes of the congregation, dangerously breached the line between church and state.

In the weeks leading up to the Council’s vote, the New York Presbytery and groups like Landmark West had attempted to lobby the council members, and the church was vandalized multiple times, with known and unknown authors.

The 120-year-old Romanesque church has fallen into disrepair in recent years, and the congregation no longer holds services there. The church had wanted to sell part of the building to a developer to pay for the rest to be restored, but the landmark designation makes that impossible. The church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Robert Brashear told the New York Times after the vote that “Forced landmarking has the effect of imposing the governmental idea of mission on the congregation.” Brashear says it would cost $11 to $12 million to restore the church, a sum the congregation does not have.

But the people who fought to designate the church have pledged to find a way to restore it to usefulness.

“Protecting this structure is about saving a spiritual and everyday human landmark, maintaining the continuity of a designated Landmark District, and protecting not only irreplaceable architecture but history, heritage, community, beauty, and quality of life,” said Upper West Side Council Member Gale Brewer. “Most importantly, landmarking the building does not dispossess the congregation, nor does it deprive the church of its religious home or of its property.”

Landmark West likewise vowed to help the church get restored.

“The ultimate goal is not only to preserve West-Park for future generations, but to restore it to vibrant use,” a statement from the group said.

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