Bid to spare West Park Presbyterian Church from demolition wins support from Upper West Side Committee

“It’s such a tragedy,” said West 80s Neighborhood Association member Melissa Elstein. “It’s sad and it shows the difference between what is happening in New York and in Europe. In Europe, these great churches and synagogues are preserved and cared for.

New York Presbytery administrator Roger Leaf, who chairs the West Park Administrative Commission – the church’s governing body – said the decision to submit a hardship application came after a year of analysis “and n was not achieved lightly.”

The request, he added, contained “more than a hundred pages of documentation, prepared by structural engineers, architects, restoration experts”, which supported the argument that saving the building would cost nearly of $50 million and that maintaining it in its current state was draining the church of funds.

“The congregation invested every penny they had in the building and had to go into debt, so far in 2022, just to keep the lights on,” Leaf said.

A lost cause?

In a presentation by the development team, Daniel Kaplan, architect at FXCollaborative, said the renovation costs included approximately $10 million for the interior and $18 million for the restoration of the facade, which is collapsing. This year alone, he said, the building had received three Buildings Department violations totaling $70,000 in fines.

Considering the significant issues that have been identified as well as the damage that has yet to be uncovered, Kaplan said $50 million to save the building “is a very reasonable number.”

Although most members of the public were in favor of maintaining the historic status of the building, some felt that preservation was a lost cause.

“The church has been a mess for two decades,” said Austin Celestin, a 19-year-old urban design student at New York University who said he grew up in the neighborhood.

Jerry B. Hatch