NY CITY: Following a preservation commission ruling earlier this month, Middle Collegiate Church, the historic New York congregation whose 19th-century building was destroyed by a fire in 2020, hopes to demolish its façade - The only part that was still standing.
Senior Minister of the Church, Rev. According to Jackie Lewis, there will be a meeting on Friday, January 27 to discuss the next steps to demolish the façade.
The congregation had hoped to retain the congregation's distinctive neo-Gothic streetfront, but last year experts cited safety and cost concerns in a report that found "the rest of the structure is in a state of disrepair and deteriorated beyond its useful life".
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Despite protests from regional preservationist organizations, the Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York City approved the church's request for a "certificate of appropriateness" to demolish the facade on January 10 by an 8–2 vote.
According to Lewis, the congregation would not be aware of how much of the façade could be recycled. Following the anticipated early spring demolition, church leaders plan to figure out "how to use the old to create what is new" in the redesigned space.
"We are committed to what is left, which may only be small fragments, because we were confident that the façade would survive," she said.
They are considered the oldest continuously operating Protestant congregation in America. Middle Collegiate, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, is one of four collegiate churches in New York that originated from a Reformed Church congregation in New Amsterdam founded in 1628.
Other churches are West End Church, Fort Washington Church and Marble Collegiate Church, whose pastor was Norman Vincent Peale.
According to Lewis, Middle Church, a dual affiliate of the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ, hopes the location will continue to provide space for worship and a variety of community services, as it did prior to the fire. He mentioned after-school activities and artist rehearsal spaces as possible solutions.
To better serve our community, which includes both the church and the neighborhood, we are renovating a church and community center, he added.
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Lewis predicts that a groundbreaking could occur within a few years and that reconstruction costs, including demolition, will total $30 million to $35 million.
Of the $21 million, or approximately $4.2 million that the church received from its insurer, was used to secure the limestone façade. Through a campaign that raised $3 million, it aims to raise an additional $15 million by the end of 2022. Lewis said the church hopes to supplement its fundraising efforts with grants from the city and the foundation, as well as assistance from other partners.
Concern over the removal of the mask was expressed by some conservationist organizations.
A local non-profit organization called the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative called for a "full and independent analysis" because it believed that demolishing the façade would damage "the special character of this very important historic district".
The Village Sun, an online publication, quoted Andrew Berman, executive director of the Village Preservation, as saying he was still concerned about the future of the site.
We wish the congregation well and will continue to do everything in our power to support their recovery and success here. A less desirable use than a new church building on this location and other historic sites.
Lewis claimed that the Collegiate Church of New York was determined to rebuild a building on the same site, with the facade decided upon.
"Everyone on our team decided to rebuild," she said. We are devoted to that place.
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East End Temple, a Manhattan Reform synagogue 10 blocks away, is hosting 130 middle collegiate attendees. More people watch online. In April at West End Collegiate, the church intends to host its "Freedom Rising: Dismantling Fascism with Fears Love" conference.