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PAGE AYRES COWLEY ARCHITECTS, LLC

rd

10 East 33 Street, New York, NY 10016 T: 212.673.6910 F: 212.673.6869

8 December 2014
Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North
New York, NY 10007
Re:

First Church of Christ Science, 1 West 96th Street

Dear Commissioner Srinivasan,
I write to urge you and your fellow commissioners to carefully consider the extent of alteration to this
particular individually designated religious structure and to work with the applicant to limit the extent of alteration to
the primary Central Park West facade. While adaptive re-use is not uncommon, fitting a residential use is and this
appears, as testimony from the applicant states is the only financially feasible option at this time.
This Carrere & Hastings building exhibits the best characteristics and detailing of Beaux Arts Classicism.
Designated 40 years ago, the property changed ownership in 2004, as many churches have done over time, to
accommodate contemporary and different denominations and shifts in a cycle of renewal and regeneration. This subtle
adaptive re-use maximizes the large open space and balconied interior seating. Although none of the interiors are
designated, re-occupancy by various sized congregations, cultural performance and arts, educational and library
research space that typically mandates high ceilings and large interior spaces, demands far less change to the exterior.
The use is adapted to the form, not the other way around.
The dilemma that this proposal poses is that any re-use is acceptable and better than a vacant building. I
disagree, as there is a better and less invasive approach to a residential conversion for sure. While the proposed
apartment plans may fit inside, the requisite dwelling requirements destroy architectural features on all four imposing
granite facades. The four horizontal sub-divisions to create new floor levels eviscerates and blocks the tall windows,
admittedly much improved by the latest revision exhibited at the Community Board 7 Full Board Meeting on
December 2, last week. Still, the boxy roof top addition and sloped skylights, and extensive window additions to the
Central Park West facade flies in the face of what the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been debating over
years as "appropriate” because the use as laid out internally is not appropriate and the result is major alteration to the
exterior of the individual landmark. When the material changes impact the exterior character and appearance of a
building, it ceases to exemplify the artist/architect, the architectural and historic significance that was the basis of the
designation. In this case, the new use, by virtue of imposing residential standards of individual operable windows,
approximately fifty new window openings on the primary and secondary facades of this freestanding church, together
with the extensive mechanical systems for individual environmental control for an estimated forty units, coupled with
roof top bulkheads and elevators, that together leave no surface untouched by alteration. The revised proposal does
attempt to limit the insertion of individual windows, however, the vertical curtain wall strips, intended to mimic the
pilasters that exist on the 96th Street side, are taken from a completely different vocabulary.
When a landmarked church becomes redundant and sold for re-purposing, the use needs to conform to the
character, design and existing massing and not obliterate features and the original design intent. Residential use may
well be appropriate, but only if there can be some restraint to save the best of the existing structure with minimum
alteration. I urge the commissioners to study the grandeur of the Central Park West ashlar facade without the
additional perforations in the bold triumphal entrance walls; to use the existing doors as doors not as shutters modified
as glazed converted doors remade as windows; to restore the terracotta tiled roof without skylights; to prevent any
additional rooftop addition; and lastly to suggest larger and fewer new openings on the secondary facades. Any
adaptation of the exterior should be in scale with the details and the fenestration that presently exists. Here less would
be more appropriate.
Sincerely yours,
Page Cowley, FAIA, RIBA, LEED A+B