DOB Stymies preservation of Christ Church
DOB Stymies preservation of Christ Church despite groundswell support of electeds, community
In March 2015, HDC got a phone call from Brian Weber, a concerned resident. He informed HDC that Christ Church, located at 338 West 36th Street, was rapidly being demolished. The 1905 church was built by noted architects Parrish & Schroeder, but does not have landmark status. A quick Department of Buildings (DOB) search turned up a demolition permit, and not much hope. Usually, once an owner of a property has this permit, there is not much anyone can do to save a building.
Despite this, the Historic Districts Council and Mr. Weber teamed up with Community Board 4, representatives from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator Brad Hoylman, Councilmember Corey Johnson, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried’s offices to meet with the owner to discuss possible adaptive reuse of the forlorn sacred structure. The owner is prolific Manhattan hotel developer Sam Chang. Chang met with the community, and was open to saving the church and incorporating his hotel tower behind the façade, despite no obligation to. This demolition was allowed as-of-right.
Collectively, the community brought forward renderings of how the tower and church could work together, and Mr. Chang was receptive, noticing that having a unique façade would make his hotel a more marketable destination. The proposal to save the church and construct the high-rise hotel moved forward to the Dept. of Buildings, who initially approved the application to incorporate the church’s façade into the tower, to the elation of the coalition.
At the last minute, the DOB rescinded their approval and rejected the plans to save the church, noting that the historic structure lacked a flush street wall, in violation of the current zoning. Usually, this would be a good thing, as this zoning promotes continuity in midtown street walls as opposed to set-back, open plazas which leave pock marks in the urban fabric. In the iteration to save Christ Church, the street wall’s break is only a matter of feet—there is no detrimental plaza. Despite this, the DOB has been inflexible in its ruling, and the church is at risk of being lost once again, despite an 18 month coalition between the community, Mr. Chang and the elected officials. This is a rare and inspiring story of the community and developer working on the same side, only to be obstructed by city bureaucracy. Now, not even a prayer can save this church from destruction.
Please write to the DOB to make an exception to save this historic building, so that it can have a new life as a beautiful hotel. This is our last chance. We got this far with an active demo permit, please help us to keep pushing the City!