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February 9, 2015

Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan
New York Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007
RE:

Adapt, Don’t Destroy the former First Church of Christ, Scientist (Individual Landmark),
361 Central Park West / 1 West 96th Street

Dear Chair Srinivasan:
On Tuesday, February 10, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a “Public
Meeting” on the application to make significant changes to the façade and rooftop of the former
First Church of Christ, Scientist (361 Central Park West / 1 West 96th Street), an Individual
Landmark designed by Carrère & Hastings – “one of the city’s most compelling religious
structures in the Classical manner,” according to Robert A.M. Stern.
We urge you not to vote at this “Public Meeting,” scheduled with little public notice (only
officially announced on Friday, February 6) and no public information about changes, if any, to
the design, which, as of the last public presentation (at the December 9, 2014, Public Hearing),
proposes to cut many new windows into the massive stone of the façade. The Commission
responded to this application with justified criticism, as did independent experts and many
members of the community. Any amendments to this application must be reviewed at a Public
Hearing, with public testimony.
As several Commissioners noted in their December 9 comments, the original design need not be
compromised in order to accommodate a new use. Just yesterday, The New York Times featured
the residential adaptive reuse of the upper floors of the former Brooklyn Trust Company
Building, an Individual Landmark designed by York & Sawyer (“‘Palazzo’ Living in Brooklyn,”
page 2 of the Real Estate section). The façade of this High Renaissance-style building will
remain untouched – no major alterations, no insertion of new windows, even on floors that
currently have no windows. The architect is planning to rely on existing large skylights to
naturally illuminate the new condominiums.
The 100-buyer waiting list for the Brooklyn Trust building proves that a strong market exists for
living in Landmarks. Buyers actively seek out unique spaces in adaptively reused churches,
banks and other historic structures. In the case of First Church, the developer purchased a

45 West 67 Street

New York NY 10023

212-496-8110

FAX 212-875-0209

landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org

February 10, 2015

Landmark (designated in 1974), presumably understanding the value inherent in the building’s
architectural character as well as the regulations involved.
Because Tuesday’s review will take place at a “Public Meeting” instead of a Public Hearing, you
will not hear again the voices of the experts and neighborhood stakeholders who spoke out at the
December 9, 2014, Public Hearing and remain deeply concerned about the impact of this
proposal. Past experience of “Public Meetings” teaches us that amendments to initial plans can
be substantial, sometimes amounting to nothing less than a totally new proposal bearing little
resemblance to plans presented at the Public Hearing. Our research indicates that there is no rule
or statute that provides for this procedure. The public is simply “frozen out” of the process.
We reiterate the testimony of preservation architect Page Ayres Cowley, who stated in her letter
dated December 9, 2014 (copy attached):
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. [...] When a landmarked church becomes redundant and sold for repurposing, the use needs to conform to the character, design and existing massing and not
obliterate features and the original design intent. [emphasis added]
And Carrère & Hastings scholar Charles Warren, who said it best in his letter to the Commission
dated November 17, 2014 (copy attached):
The NYC LPC has a mandate to preserve the designated landmarks of our great city, this
mandate does not require the commission to permit changes merely to maximize the
profit of those who speculate in the real estate market. Allowing such destructive and
unnecessary changes diminishes our architectural and cultural heritage and sets a
precedent that undermines the protections the law extends to all of New York’s
Landmarks. [emphasis added]
The Brooklyn Trust example proves that Landmarks can be profitably adapted without being
destroyed. This is the kind of precedent that must be followed, and reaffirmed, through the
Commission’s actions.
Sincerely,
Kate Wood
President

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