Church Gets Landmark Status

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In a hard-fought victory for community preservationists, the city designated West Park Presbyterian Church a landmark Jan. 12.

Rev. Robert Brashear, however, now faces complicated restrictions as he seeks ways to finance restoration of the aging building, at 165 W. 86th St. and Amsterdam Avenue.

Preservations had long urged the city to protect the historic church, with Upper West Side groups, elected officials and Community Board 7 arguing that the church is a beautiful example of religious architecture.

Robery Tierney, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, called the church “one of the best examples of a Romanesque Revival-style religious structure” in the city.

“Its deep red sandstone cladding, broad round-arch openings and soaring tower endow a prominent intersection of the Upper West Side with an unmistakable sense of place,” Tierney said in a statement.

Previously, the church had been a refuge for the homeless, who continued to gather outside even though the congregation had moved and services were no longer offered. But at the request of nearby residents, business owners and Community Board 7, church officials erected metal gates around the four entrances to keep people from sleeping and congregating there.

Council Member Gale Brewer, who supported protecting the church, said the commission’s decision saved the building.

“We’ve also preserved a spiritual and everyday landmark for our neighborhood, protecting not only architecture, but history, heritage and quality of life,” she said in a statement.

For years, the crumbling exterior was in need of expensive maintenance. Scaffolding had to be erected to stop chunks of stone from falling down, according to Brashear.

The reverend has tried to work with a developer to finance such work, but the landmark designation will have a “chilling effect” on such a deal, he said.

“Designating it as a landmark doesn’t necessarily mean it’s protected,” Brashear said. “The question is, where does the money come from, the resources come from, to not only preserve, but restore?”

Assembly Member Rosenthal, who got the city to pull demolition permits on the church, wants to help find a partner that will preserve the structure and be a benefit to the congregation.

“I don’t think that’s an impossible chore,” Rosenthal said. “There are worthy groups out there that do need more space and are of a similar philosophical attitude.”

Brashear said that he has heard similar comments from landmark proponents in the community, but he is waiting for a solid proposal.

“Words are one thing, reality is another and we have to move toward reality,” Brashear said. “I’m open to any proposals discussions. But we need to talk in concrete terms.”

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