Actor Matt Damon joins fight to save historic NYC church

Matt Damon
Matt Damon | Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

Actor Matt Damon has joined the fight to save a historic 12-member church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City from being sold to developers who want to demolish it to make way for a $30 million luxury condominium.

His effort to save the West Park Presbyterian Church, located at 165 W 86th Street, will include a performance of the play “This Is Our Youth” on Nov. 16 for The Center at West Park, a not-for-profit community performing arts center housed in the Romanesque Revival building.

The church was designated a New York City Landmark in 2010 against the congregation’s wishes, according to The New York Times.

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Leaders of the church, however, signed a binding contract in 2022 with the condominium's developer due to a $2 million repair bill they cannot afford. They have also filed a hardship application seeking to de-landmark and demolish the building to make way for the condominium, which will also include worship space for the church.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently evaluating the church’s hardship application. At a public meeting on Oct. 31, the LPC reviewed independent analysis they commissioned and some commissioners suggested alternative uses for the building such as an event venue or daycare center. While the LPC’s hardship statute requires a reasonable return of 6% on the investment needed to repair the church, it was noted that if the building is owned by a third party, it would not be able to earn that reasonable return.

“As an elder of the church and a founding member of the Center at West Park, I'm also frustrated with the difficult position we find ourselves in today. We helped create the Center in 2017 to celebrate the arts while fundraising for repairs to the building, but the funds never came through despite more than a decade of promises and commitments from local leaders,” Marsha Flowers, ruling elder of the West Park Presbyterian Church and a founding board member of the Center at West Park, said in a statement to The Christian Post. “Our congregation is now focused on creating a new space for worship and the arts, and we hope to use our proceeds to help other churches meet their mission and avoid circumstances like ours.” 

West-Park Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City
West-Park Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City | James Russiello/Wikimedia Commons

Damon adds to a growing list of high-profile celebrities who have already thrown their star-power behind the effort to save the building such as actors Mark Ruffalo and Wendell Pierce; comedian Amy Schumer, as well as rapper and actor Common, the Times said.

Kenneth Lonergan, who wrote "This Is Our Youth," told The New York Times that he asked Damon to join the cast, which also includes Missy Yager and Ruffalo, because Josh Hamilton, who appeared in the original off-Broadway production, was unavailable.

"I explained the situation to him, and immediately he said, 'I'm in,' which is what I thought he would say if he was available," Lonergan said, "and as a matter of fact, he had an apartment one block away from the church for a year or two, maybe. This is going back a ways."


Lonergan told The Times that Damon, who already knows the play because he appeared in a London production for two months in 2002, wants to "keep what's special about the neighborhood special."

Tickets to see Damon's performance start at $500, but the top price for a second performance on Nov. 17 will only be $250. Some seats on the second day of the play will have no fixed admission, and people can pay what they wish.

"For over a decade, the board of the Center at West Park has been working to preserve this important NYC landmark as an accessible cultural resource for the local neighborhood and the NYC performing arts community," the Center at West Park stated on the campaign page.

"The Center at West Park is a vital and thriving artistic and cultural hub. Since 2017, the center has presented more than 300 performances to over 15,000 audience members," the group adds. 

"Together, we can make our voices heard and show that our community wants more accessible and inclusive spaces for arts and culture, not another luxury high-rise development."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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