Outside of West Park Presbyterian Church on West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, there was a bake sale Sunday, Aug. 8. Cupcakes and lemonade were on sale for $1 each.
But instead of raising money for a charity or a community program, the money was going toward the church itself. West Park Presbyterian needs to raise more than $20 million for repairs.
The church is in desperate need of funding to repair its façade, roof and water-damaged interior after receiving landmark status from the city in May. Before the designation, the church had planned to build affordable housing units adjacent to the sanctuary in order to bring in revenue to repair and maintain the building, but the landmark status means that they must preserve certain original aspects of the 120-year-old structure.
The church had vehemently opposed the landmark designation, but independent groups, including Landmark West and Friends of West Park, preservationists and elected officials advocated just as heavily in favor.
Rev. Robert Brashear, the pastor at West Park, still asserts that it is not within the realm of city government to dictate how a church operates. But his primary mission now is to address the most immediate problems that stand in the way of getting his congregation back into its home and providing services to the community.
“As pastor, my concern is getting stuff repaired in here so the space can be used,” Brashear said.
The minimum repairs will cost approximately $10,000 to $15,000. A new boiler needs to be installed, an office for the reverend must be constructed, a burst water pipe has to be fixed and a pigeon infestation needs eradicating.
The bake sale attracted relatively minor amounts of attention and money, but Brashear counts on small-scale events like these to eventually bring in large-scale support in the way of business partners and donors.
Council Member Gale Brewer, who was a target of a message in protest of the landmarking that was drawn on the scaffolding around the church, is prepared to raise $11.5 million for repairs to the church’s exterior—a renovation that is not a high priority for Brashear.
“There’s always tension on the landmark issue, but that’s all behind us, and we’re all working together,” said Brewer, who donated brownies for the sale and spent time at the event talking to congregants. “On this 86th Street block, we’re going to talk to the co-op presidents and come up with a fundraising plan and try to come up with some big checks.”
Howard Yourow, a member of the board of directors of the Historic Districts Council, also came by the bake sale and is optimistic about the church’s future.
“It’s a fantastic structure, inside and out, in a fantastic location with a great history,” Yourow said.
But some congregants, while hopeful that money can be raised, are still critical of the landmarking efforts and fear that the preservationists who fought for the designation do not share the church’s religious and social mission.
Luckily, many members of West Park are not discouraged by the high fundraising goal.
Arcadia Brenes hoisted a large sign all afternoon and cheerfully implored passersby to donate even 5 cents for the cause.
“We will do it one step at a time,” Brenes said. “And with a little help from the guy upstairs.”
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