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A highly coveted rental is below this beautifully restored facade. (The Spire Lofts via All Year Management LLC) A highly coveted rental is below this beautifully restored facade. (The Spire Lofts via All Year Management LLC)
New York City churches have had to contend with waning congregations for quite some time, and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated it between lockdowns and people’s fear of contracting the virus in an enclosed space. As a result, it has become all too common for churches to sell their sites to developers only to see the beautiful old buildings demolished. (P.S. Many churches have been known to arrange deals for new worship space in the replacements, but that is often not the same.)

Adaptive reuse can be a creative compromise for waning congregations that don’t have the wherewithal or membership to maintain an old building, but this isn’t a step that should be taken lightly or half-heartedly. When done right, this can lead to amazing apartments - The Spire Lofts, a Williamsburg rental that was originally built as St. Vincent de Paul Church in 1869, maintained the structure and incorporated salvaged materials; these steps resulted in incredible architectural details in the apartments. However, Williamsburg is also home to a cautionary tale - we’re inclined to agree with the Brooklynite who described the removal of the roof and bell tower at 70 Havemeyer Street as “an architectural crime and a loss for the neighborhood.” The Landmarks Preservation Commission (“Landmarks”) has been known to step in and protect certain buildings, but only those located in designated historic districts or decreed New York City Landmarks.
This is especially something to consider in light of the devastating fire at Middle Collegiate Church, one of the city’s oldest and most progressive churches, in December 2020. A local described it as “our Notre-Dame” in an interview with The New York Times. The congregation has bounced between temporary spaces, including the members-only Chapel Bar and a synagogue, after it was safe to resume in-person services, but there is a campaign to rebuild the historic church.

Landmarks recently read into the record an application for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the church's remaining facade and foundation in the wake of the damage from the fire; they will accept testimony at a future hearing, possibly next week. As we wait and see what the future holds for Middle Collegiate Church, we take a look at prime examples of how and how not to adapt a house of worship into a new use.
555-West-End-Avenue-01 555 West End Avenue via Compass

135 West 4th Street
Then: Washington Square United Methodist Church, circa 1860 | Now: Condominium designed by Flank Architects
5 stories | 8 units
1 availability for $2.499 million

135-West-4th-Street-01 All images of Novare via Compass
The word Novare is Latin for "to be reborn," and was aptly given to this church one block from Washington Square Park. The facade has been beautifully restored following a 2008 condo conversion, but the interiors were demolished to give way to dramatic apartments that would come to attract celebrities like Jude Law.

Novare, #3E (Compass)

360 Court Street
Then: South Congregational Church, circa 1857 | Now: Condominium
3 stories | 26 units
No current availabilities

360-Court-Street-01 The Carroll Gardens Landmark Condominiums via CityRealty
360-Court-Street-02 Interiors via Brown Harris Stevens
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The Romanesque Revival-style church on the corner of Court and President Streets has served as a visual anchor of its Cobble Hill neighborhood for over 160 years, and the red brick facade and towering steeple remain points of interest in the wake of a 2008 condo conversion. Apartment interiors are rich in historic details like soaring ceilings and massive mullioned arched cathedral window, which let in amazing natural light.

626 Bushwick Avenue
Then: Lutheran Church, circa 1900 | Now: Rental developed by Cayuga Capital Management and designed by Arctone Group
7 stories | 99 units
1 availability for $2,950/month

626-Bushwick-Avenue-01 The Saint Marks (Nooklyn)
Much like at any other rental that has recently sprung up in Bushwick, residents of The Saint Marks enjoy amenities like a bike room, a common roof deck, and garage with Zipcar on premises. They also enjoy rich architectural details like soaring ceilings, airy layouts, exposed brick, and restored windows thanks to the building's history as a church and adjoining school. A four-story infill was added during the residential conversion, and the original buildings have been beautifully preserved.

626-Bushwick-Avenue-02 The Saint Marks, #315 (Myspace NYC Realty)
From the Listing: Unique one-of-a-kind 1-bedroom built into what used to be a 140-year-old church converted into luxury apartments! Unit features hardwood floors, dishwasher, custom kitchen and bath, large windows bringing incredible light throughout the apartment, and separate efficient PTAC heat and cooling units in both rooms. See floor plan and full details here.

Then: Park Avenue Christian Church rectory | Now: Condominium developed by Extell and designed by Beyer Blinder Belle
15 stories | 11 units
No current availabilities

1010-Park-Avenue-01 Rendering of 1010 Park Avenue via Williams New York
1010-Park-Avenue-02 Interiors via The Corcoran Group
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In 2014, the Upper East Side's Gothic Revival-style Park Avenue Christian Church sold its adjacent rectory to Extell for just under $25 million in the wake of financial hardship. The rectory's demolition and residential replacement took some time before Landmarks, but the project was approved after Extell dropped a controversial plan to have the new building cantilever over the church's roof. The design was inspired by classic Park Avenue cooperatives and features cladding in the same local stone and limestone trim in the rectory. The church was promised a new street-level entrance and two below-grade community spaces in the new building.

Then: St. Agnes Boys High School, circa 1908 | Now: Condominium designed and developed by Cary Tamarkin
8 stories | 13 units
7 availabilities from $7.995 million

555-West-End-Avenue-01 All images of 555 West End Avenue via Compass
The Beaux-Arts school at 555 West End Avenue has long served as an unofficial landmark for Upper West Side residents, and its address in the Riverside-West End Historic District required developer Cary Tamarkin to appear before Landmarks before embarking on the restoration and adaptation. The result is a historic building restored to its former glory and unique apartments within. The school's library and gym have been turned into some of the most dramatic apartments in the city, and all units feature grand proportions and Christopher Peacock kitchens.

555 West End Avenue, #TheLibrary (Sothebys International Realty)

30 East 31st Street
Then: Madison Avenue Baptist Church parish house, circa 1905 | Now: Condominium developed by the Ekstein Development Group and The Pinnacle Group and designed by Morris Adjmi Architects
42 stories | 42 units
3 availabilities from $2.375 million

30-East-31st-Street-01 All images of 30E31 via Reuveni Real Estate
When 30E31 was on the rise, architecture enthusiasts lamented the loss of the Romanesque Revival parish house that had a history of providing space to arts organizations. But upon seeing the Gothic elements that the context-sensitive Morris Adjmi Architects incorporated into the soaring tower, Carter Horsley came around to the new design. Full-floor units feature 10' ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, custom kitchens, and spa-like baths. See floor plan and full details here.

30E31, #32 (Coldwell Banker Warburg)

400 West 113th Street
Rental developed by Brodsky Organization and designed by Handel Architects
15 stories | 428 units

400-West-113th-Street-01 All images of Enclave at the Cathedral via Brodsky Organization
On the north side of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the boldly modern design of Enclave at the Cathedral stands in stark contrast to the landmarked Gothic cathedral. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on views of the cathedral and its grounds, as does a beautifully landscaped outdoor deck. Additional building amenities include a 2,000-square-foot fitness center with floor-to-ceiling windows, a game room, a screening room and a roof deck.

Enclave At The Cathedral, #1223 (OMG Marketing)

Then: Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue, circa 1910 | Now: Condo developed by East River Partners
5 stories | 3 units
No current availabilities

415-East-6th-Street-01 415 East 6th Street via East River Partners
Between low attendance and high financial difficulties, the owners of Adas Yisroel Anshe Meseritz Synagogue sold the building, which the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation calls "historically significant," to a developer to be converted to residential use. But this familiar narrative takes a happier turn: As part of the agreement, developer East River Partners agreed to renovate the ground and basement floors in a move that would prevent the congregation from closing its doors. Today the neo-classical elements of the building have been beautifully restored, congregants can go to services through a separate entrance, and the apartments have been designed to marry historic elements with modern finishes and appliances. Between the unique homes and prime East Village location, it is little wonder the building attracted attention from the likes of Natasha Lyonne and Alexander Skarsgård.

401 Hicks Street
Then: St. Peter's Church, circa 1858 | Now: Condominium developed by Triangle Equities and designed by Scarano and Associates
3 stories | 59 units
No current availabilities

401-Hicks-Street-01 All images of The Arches at Cobble Hill via Compass
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In 2005, a three-building complex comprising St. Peter's Church, its rectory, and a nursing academy was transformed into a historically appealing condominium. The retention of architectural details like stained glass windows and wood trusses was instrumental in the project receiving unanimous Landmarks approval, and a small extension allowed for more housing units.

163 North 6th Street
Then: St. Vincent de Paul Church, circa 1869 | Now: Rental developed by Heritage Equity Partners and designed by Anthony Morali
5 stories | 40 units
No current availabilities

163-North-6th-Street-01 The Spire Lofts via All Year Management
To look at this Williamsburg rental, one might think services are still in session. It is an easy mistake to make - the 19th century building's structure was well-maintained at the time of its conversion, and the building is held together with angled wooden beams and cast iron catwalks. Interiors make excellent use of salvaged materials like original exposed brick, custom steel work, Heart Pine pillars and beams, and arched stain glass windows in almost all units. Residents enjoy loft-like apartments, stylish kitchens, in-unit washer/dryers, virtual doorman service, and easy access to popular Williamsburg shopping, dining, and the Bedford Avenue L train.

361 Central Park West, Central Park West

Then: First Church of Christian Scientist | Now: Future home of the Children's Museum of Manhattan

 
 
 
 
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While a Landmarks designation is vital to the protection of New York's historic buildings, it can sometimes prove overly restrictive. Just ask the First Church of Christian Scientist's New York outpost: The designation prevented the church from making conversions, and the church's leadership sold the building for $14 million in 2004. A planned residential conversion was nixed in the years that followed, and the popular Children's Museum of Manhattan purchased the building for a whopping $45 million at the end of 2017 with expansion plans in mind. It took a few trips to Landmarks, but the adaptive reuse was ultimately approved with modifications in June 2020. Commissioners were largely supportive of the project, but would only allow the museum to remove the overly religious-themed stained-glass windows; the remainder of the decorative cartouches were required to be retained. Indeed, newly released renderings show carefully preserved historic details.

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