165 West 86 Street (West Park Presbyterian Church)

Address: 165 West 86 Street
Block: 1217
Lot: 1
Landmark status: No

Contact

Tom Vitullo-Martin, Co-Chair
Friends of West Park Church
210 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
(212) 580-0383

Reverend Robert Brashear
West Park Presbyterian Church
165 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
(212) 362- 4890

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Summary of site plans and status

UPDATE: 11/07/2007
Community Board 7/Manhattan requests that the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendar an immediate hearing on the proposed designation of West-Park Presbyterian Church as an Individual Landmark.

In need of funding to repair its aging building, the Church’s building committee approached Related Companies to explore renovation options. Related Companies proposed to demolish the existing structure and build a 23-story condominium tower with new space for the church at the corner of the site. When neighbors learned of Related’s plan, they organized Friends of West Park to create an alternate plan and raise funds to support it. Each member of the congregation is expected to vote on one of the two plans with finalization left up to the Presbytery, a legislative meeting of representatives from the churches.

The proposed plan was to rebuild and restore the Sanctuary, create new classrooms and other facilities for mission outreach, create new classrooms and other multi-use spaces for community use, create new affordable housing rental units, and create new market-rate housing. The new structure was proposed to be no taller than other buildings in the area, such as the building mid-block across the street from the church on West 86 Street. The new preservation plan has been approved by the Presbytery as of December 2005.

As of January 2008, the current development plans proposed by Richman Development have been approved by the congregants at West Park Presbyterian Church and by the Presbytery.

Future development on this site is unclear.

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UPDATE: 8/04/09

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on landmarking West Park Church on July 14th, 2009.  Council Member Brewer delivered testimony in support of landmarking the site, which can be found below.

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION
JULY 14, 2009
Council Member Gale A. Brewer, 6th District, West Side of Manhattan

RE:    263 W. 86th Street (West-Park Presbyterian Church)

I thank Chairman Tierney and the Landmarks Preservation Commission members for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Gale A. Brewer and I represent the residents of the West Side of Manhattan, from West 54 Street to West 96 Street, in the City Council.

The original structure of West Park Presbyterian Church was built in 1882, but was remodeled in 1889 by noted church architect Henry F. Kilburn to accommodate an expanding congregation. The church is a rare, perhaps unique example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, and has been called “one of New York City’s great architectural treasures” by architect Lee Harris Pomeroy.

Although we in New York are often accused of not looking beyond our borders, I would like to call to the Commission’s attention for a moment to the city of Boston: conjure up the remarkable vista of  Copley Square in the heart of old Back Bay, and its pair of famous landmarked Romanesque churches. West Park Presbyterian could easily stand beside them in distinction and scale. It belongs, in other words, to concerns that are larger than those of West Side or New York, and is part of a canon of American church architecture whose ensemble is of value not only here but to our national heritage.

The church’s robust, red sandstone façade, heavy, round arches and distinctive bell tower make it an integral part of the neighborhood’s architectural landscape. While there is no doubt that the building is in dire need of renovations, a 2001 Resource Evaluation by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation noted, “the church maintains an exceptionally high level of integrity of setting, design, materials, craftsmanship feeling and association on both the exterior and interior.” We note that the church also occupies all of its original site, and that because of its corner setting it provides unobstructed full views of the entire sanctuary and its remarkable tower.

In addition to West Park’s architectural grandeur, the building is also of considerable historical significance, as noted by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic preservation in its evaluation.  A former pastor at the church was responsible for translating Werner Sombart’s writings on socialism into English. In addition, the church was the original home of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare Festival, and it was the first church in New York City to support gay marriage.

The church building was protected recently from demolition by neighbors and me, but many years ago it was left out of the West Side/Central Park West historic district designation. Members of the community have been in constant battle to keep this architecturally and culturally significant building from demolition, and, at the same time, retain the sanctuary and the mission of the church.

Unfortunately, structures as beautiful and significant as West Park Presbyterian Church have become scarce in our city.  The West Side and the city as a whole cannot afford to see any more of its treasures demolished to make way for more bland, uninteresting residential towers that have encroached on so many blocks in our community. Communities are not enhanced by the destruction and degradation of their built environment, nor do neighborhoods become more livable by removing their aesthetic treasures and physical landmarks.

West Park Presbyterian has been a de facto landmark at its present location, as well as a beloved neighborhood site, since the West Side emerged in the 1880s as the residential community whose architecture and ambience we treasure today. Ironically, as in other city neighborhoods of long-standing, and aesthetic and architectural value, the landmarks that give a neighborhood its physical character and history are often the first things to go when some seek to profit from those neighborhoods by destroying what makes them unique. We cannot allow this to continue, and as you know so well the Landmarks Commission was created to preserve not only an architectural gem here and there, like Grand Central, or St. Bart’s, but to ensure that areas like the Upper West Side Historic District and its adjacent structures are not degraded and lost to short-sighted ambition.

I am delighted that the West Park Presbyterian Church is being considered today, and I urge the Commission to designate this historic and treasured building as a landmark. With this building as a landmark, I will work to raise the necessary funds to restore the building.

I would like to thank West Park’s Reverend Robert Brashear, and all those throughout the community who have helped to bring us to today’s hearing, and, hopefully, to the realization of decades of neighborhood effort on behalf of this remarkable building and its legacy.

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