West Park Presbyterian Church halts plans to demolish landmark building 

The West Park Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side, which planned  to tear down its landmark 19th-century Romanesque Revival building and sell the property to a developer, has put those plans on hold.

The church, facing financial challenges and seeking to fund its broader community work, applied for permission from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish the building, the New York Times reported.

But the move sparked strong opposition from supporters of the building’s preservation, including elected officials and celebrities like actors Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo, with some warning of what demolishing the church could mean for future landmarks in financial distress.

In a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the church’s lawyers announced the withdrawal of the application due to an ongoing lawsuit against a tenant involving a lease dispute. 

The commission was scheduled to vote Tuesday on the church’s application, which garnered widespread attention and support for preservation.

While the congregation expressed confidence in reapplying for approval in the future, preservation advocates, including City Council member Gale Brewer, hope that the temporary hold might open the door to alternative solutions. 

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The dispute had attracted national attention, with celebrities such as Ruffalo and Damon joining the cause. 

The case also became emblematic of broader debates over the future of New York City’s houses of worship and the housing crisis, as churches explore private development to address declining memberships, while some argue for more housing development on these properties.

The 133-year-old building has poured in dollars for maintenance since receiving landmark status. However, it still racked up numerous fines and violations as its congregation dwindled to a dozen members, helping lead the church to seek a hardship application. 

The LPC plans to hold another public hearing about the church’s hardship application process.

“This precedent of having a hardship and declaring a church is in hardship is a dangerous one,” Derrick Mcqueen, a Reverend Presbyterian pastor in New York City, said over the summer.

— Ted Glanzer