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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 now, and the pandemic-induced lockdowns and reluctance to attend indoor events of any type further exacerbated it. As a result, it has become increasingly common for churches to sell their physical real estate, air rights, or both to real estate developers for a price that can fund a number of church programs, and sometimes a deal that allows for new worship space in the new building.

That is the wish of the leadership of West Park Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side, home to a severely dwindled congregation that The New York Times puts around a dozen members. The church has entered contract with Alchemy Properties in a deal that would allow the developer to demolish the building, erect a new condominium, and give the church new space; however, the church’s status as a New York City Landmark is keeping the deal from going forward, as the building cannot be demolished until the Landmarks Preservation Commission (“Landmarks”) approves it. Moreover, local preservationists have found high-profile allies in celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Amy Schumer, and Wendell Pierce.
If its 133-year-old Romanesque Revival building was in better condition, West Park Presbyterian Church might have been a prime candidate for adaptive reuse in a move that, at first blush, looks like a compromise that would maintain the historic structure and give the church an influx of cash from the developer. However, this step should not 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.”
Landmarks has been known to step in to protect churches located in designated historic districts or decreed individual landmarks, as West Park Presbyterian Church was in 2010. There are fewer instances of the reverse taking shape, but the church’s leadership persists. In the meantime, we look at examples throughout the city of houses of worship adapted into housing, as well as the new buildings that have risen on former house of worship sites.
555-West-End-Avenue-01 555 West End Avenue via Compass

Adaptive Reuse

Then: Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue, circa 1910 | Now: Condominium 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.

Then: Center of the Proskurover Zion Congregation, circa 1920 | Now: Cooperative
4 stories | 4 units
2 availabilities from $1,600,000

431-East-6th-Street-01 431 East 6th Street entrance (Compass)
In the 1980s, when East Village real estate prices were a tiny fraction of what they are today, a group of artists purchased an abandoned synagogue and turned it into a tenancy-in-common building with live/work space. Original architectural features like soaring ceilings, arched windows, stained glass windows, decorative moldings, and skylights allowed for abundant natural light, not to mention inspiration, for artists like William Wegman, Jack Sal, Paola Igliori, and Maria Von Hartz.

431 East 6th Street, #MAIS (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 $2,650,000

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, #2W (Compass)

205 East 16th Street
Then: St. George's Church parish house, circa 1888 | Now: Condominium developed by Herbert W. Hirsch Enterprises
5 stories | 31 units
2 availabilities from $2,000,000

205-East-16th-Street-01 The Abbey (Compass)
In the mid-1880s, J.P. Morgan entered an agreement to finance social services at St. George's Church. During its rich history, it hosted a number of social services, not to mention the weddings of daughters of the Morgan and Phipps families. The parish house served as a women's residence in the 1960s; decades later, it was converted to a condominium with original architectural details preserved.

The Abbey Condominium, #3F (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

Then: St. Agnes Boys High School, circa 1908 | Now: Condominium designed and developed by Cary Tamarkin
8 stories | 13 units
6 availabilities from $7,995,000

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)

99 Clinton Street
Then: Spencer Memorial Presbyterian Church, circa 1850 | Now: Cooperative
3 stories | 10 units
No current availabilities

99-Clinton-Street-01 99 Clinton Street (CityRealty)
In the heart of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, the Gothic Revival-style church at 99 Clinton Street has a rich history all its own: Brownstoner notes that shortly before the church closed its doors in the mid-1970s, it was a meeting place for the Gay Alliance of Brooklyn, one of New York's first gay rights groups outside Manhattan. When it was converted to a cooperative, original features like high ceilings, exposed stone, and stained glass windows were preserved.

Then: Norwegian Seaman's Church | Now: Cooperative
4 stories | 33 units
No current availabilities

450-Clinton-Street-01 450 Clinton Street (CityRealty)
The Romanesque Revival church on the corner of Clinton Street and 1st Place took shape at a time when this stretch of Brooklyn was mostly farmland, albeit with a number of ships docked at its waterfront. Today, as the neighborhood has become increasingly residential, the church was beautifully repurposed into a cooperative with rich architectural details and an enormous private garden.

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
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.

58 Strong Place
Then: Baptist church, circa 1851 | Now: Condominium designed by CWB Architects
4 stories | 23 units
1 availability for $1,750,000

58-Strong-Place-01 The Landmark at Strong Place (The Corcoran Group)
In the heart of the Cobble Hill Historic District, the church at 58 Strong Place has long served as an early example of English Gothic Revival-style architecture. Between the beauty of the building and its location in a protected neighborhood, the developers took great pains to preserve it amidst the residential conversion. This would come to the delight of buyers - a 2011 article in The Real Deal raved about the speed of contract signings and the crowded open houses.

The Landmark at Strong Place, #4C (Corcoran Group)

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
401-Hicks-Street-02
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.

167 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.

626 Bushwick Avenue
Then: Lutheran Church, circa 1900 | Now: Rental developed by Cayuga Capital Management and designed by Arctone Group
7 stories | 99 units
No current availabilities

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.

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. West Park Presbyterian knows this well, as did 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.

New Buildings

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; designed by Morris Adjmi Architects
42 stories | 42 units
5 availabilities from $1,595,000

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, #37 (Modlin Group LLC)

Then: Park Avenue Christian Church rectory | Now: Condominium developed by Extell; 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
1010-Park-Avenue-03
1010-Park-Avenue-04
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: Shaare Zadek synagogue | Now: Condominium developed by Landsea Homes and Leyton Properties; designed by ODA Architects
14 stories | 20 units
3 availabilities from $2,415,000

212-West-93rd-Street-01 212 West 93rd Street (Douglas Elliman)
Before the new condominium took shape at 212 West 93rd Street, local preservationists lobbied to save the Neo-Classical synagogue from demolition. However, representatives of Congregation Shaare Zadek claimed selling the building to the developer was the only way to resolve their financial hardships. The building now contains 20 luxury condominium units, not to mention a new worship space with a separate entrance.

212 West 93rd Street, #PHA (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

100 Claremont Avenue
Then: Space on Union Theological Seminary campus | Now: Condominium developed by Lendlease and Daiwa House; design by Robert A.M. Stern Architects
42 stories | 175 units
16 availabilities from $1,235,000

100-Claremont-Avenue-01 Claremont Hall (The Corcoran Group)
More than 100 years after its Morningside Heights campus was constructed, Union Theological Seminary has used the proceeds from its sale of development and air rights to finance a multi-million-dollar renovation. The resulting condominium is the tallest building in Morningside Heights, but the facade designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects nods to the Gothic style of the other buildings on the seminary's campus.

Claremont Hall, #33A (Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group)

60 Norfolk Street
Then: Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue | Now: Affordable senior housing building
16 stories | 115 units
No current availabilities

60-Norfolk-Street-01 The Norfolk (Housing Connect)
Years after the landmarked Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue was destroyed in an intentionally set fire, and after Landmarks approved further demolition of the damaged shell, a new building has risen on the site. A lottery for affordable senior housing units took place in fall 2022, and the new building also includes a new worship space and cultural heritage center for Beth Hamedrash Hagodol.
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