Architects for a controversial condo conversion of a landmarked church on the Upper West Side were finally successful in getting their plan past the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
LPC commissioners initially rejected the plan, presented by GKV Architects in December, over a proposal to cut six windows in the Central Park-facing façade of the church. Architects came back before the LPC in February with the window plan intact, claiming they were necessary to cast light into individual units.
Commissioners, however, argued that because the architects declined to share any floor plans with the LPC, they offered no justification for disturbing the church’s most visible façade.
This time the plan was presented without the windows on Central Park West, and the commission green-lighted the conversion.
The proposal still calls for removing all religious iconography from the church’s stained glass windows, a major point of contention for the commissioners and the public, especially as it relates to the large stained glass window on Central Park West. Architects argued that prospective buyers would not want religious motifs incorporated into their living space. LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said that shouldn’t be assumed, and that some buyers may regard the stained glass as a unique part of the unit.
According to the real estate website Curbed, seven commissioners voted to approve the proposal while three voted against it, with the major sticking point being the removal of the religious stained glass. The final approval calls for architects to work with the LPC on an appropriate replacement for the religious stained glass.
The latest proposal abandons a plan for new windows under the arched windows on 96th Street. Architects still plan to build a terrace on the seventh floor and to cut dozens of windows on the 97th Street side of the building.
Commissioners expressed all along that they were open to allowing the hundred-year-old church to turn residential, citing a need for some sort of repurposing before the building falls further into disrepair. Built in 1903, the church at 361 Central Park West and 96th Street was designed by Carrere and Hastings and was most recently the home of the Crenshaw Christian Center.
The church was purchased last summer by developers Ira Shapiro and Joseph Brunner, who hired GKV Architects and Li Saltzman Architects to devise a plan that would create about 30 units, including a penthouse. According to Howard Zipser, an attorney representing the owners, the smallest studio unit would come in at no less than 1,400 square feet.
After developers announced their intention to convert the building into condos, dozens of Upper West Siders and several preservation groups packed LPC hearings on the matter to criticize or support the conversion.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy is supportive of the repurposing for the same reason the LPC is: something has to be done with the building before it falls apart. At the hearing in December the conservancy’s director, Alex Herrera, said “as development pressures continue to increase, institutions face difficult decisions regarding their buildings. Those challenges are clear in this proposal…The church exterior has a solid and austere beauty that will be compromised to meet requirements for its new use, but will survive.”
Landmark West was critical of the planned conversion since it was announced, and said that every effort should be made to maintain the stained glass as is.
Kate Wood, executive director of Landmark West, staged a walkout at the hearing in protest that the community was not allowed to testify. Under LPC rules the public can only speak at the initial hearing of a proposal, which was in December. According to Curbed, at the meeting last week when the project was finally approved, Wood and another Landmark West employee simply held a photo of the stained glass window on Central Park West.