Congregation halts plans to destroy historic NYC church after celebrities object

West Park Presbyterian Church at 165 W. 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City.
West Park Presbyterian Church at 165 W. 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. | Screenshot/Google

Plans to demolish the historic West Park Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, due to its financial struggles have been halted following objections from local residents and celebrities, including Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo, according to reports.

The 133-year-old church had intended to sell the property for development into luxury apartments. However, the building’s landmark status, granted in 2010, required approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for demolition, according to The New York Times, which said the church’s request for permission, made in 2022, sparked widespread support for the building’s preservation, including from actors Damon and Ruffalo.

The congregation withdrew its application, influenced by a lawsuit against a tenant regarding a lease dispute, days before the commission was scheduled to vote on the church’s application on Tuesday, the Times said.

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However, the church plans to resubmit the application in the future. The congregation said in a statement that they resolve “to resubmit our application to the LPC when the litigation is resolved so that we can finally invest in the modern, accessible worship and community space that the Upper West Side deserves and further support our mission in our neighborhood and across New York City,” as quoted by West Side Rag.

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

Gale Brewer, a city council member representing the Upper West Side, expressed hope that the delay might lead to the building’s preservation.

Amid New York City’s housing crisis, some are arguing that opposition to the church’s demolition hinders the development of much-needed housing.

“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,” 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 at the time.

“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,” Flowers added. “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.” 

In an effort to support the building’s preservation, actor Matt Damon participated in a play performance at the church last November.

Wendell Pierce; comedian Amy Schumer, as well as rapper and actor Common have also thrown their star-power behind the effort to save the building.

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