Conversion Experience


The former garage transformed into an 850-seat sanctuary and community center for Redeemer Presbyterian.
Courtesy Gertler & Wente Architects

This Sunday, the Redeemer Presbyterian Church on West 83rd Street will open the doors of its new church, formerly a parking garage, while three blocks away on the corner of Amsterdam and 86th Street, the landmarked Romanesque parish of West-Park Presbyterian struggles to buy a new boiler.

The congregations belong to different branches of the Presbyterian Church—the Redeemer is a younger and more conservative branch of Presbyterianism looking to expand, while West-Park tracing its roots back to the 1789 Scotts Calvinists already owns some of the prettiest historic properties in Manhattan.

Temporarily renting spaces across the city, the Redeemer church approached West-Park, but the timing did not work out and the sale price was not within reach. The church also had specific programming needs that they didn’t want relegated to the basement.  The industrial garage suited them better, according to Susan Lee, the redeemer’s project manager working with architects Gertler & Wente Architects on the $53 million conversion of the century-old garage to a five-story church.

The West Park Presbyterian Church.
Courtesy Landmarks West

As the Redeemer congregation moves into its new home, West-Park struggles to juggle maintenance of its landmark while serving its mission. Last month, Landmarks-West cobbled together almost $5,000 to help the church replace its heating system. Tony De La Rosa, the interim executive presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City, said that it’s a burden for churches concerned with maintaining membership to be saddled with caring for monumental edifices. “We’re now hamstrung in the business of being architecture preservation societies,” he said. “If there are entities that wish to take on that, and there’s energy and money for it, fine.” He added that landmark structures cut out certain adaptive reuse options and so newer communities are likely to look at property ownership more skeptically.

“It seems ironic that there’s this church nearby and a waste of resources to [build] something from scratch,” said Lehman College professor Herbert Broderick, who together with his wife, NYU professor Mosette Broderick, fought to get the West-Park building landmarked in 2010. Like others in the community, Broderick said that he had hoped for a more environmental- and user-friendly solution for West-Park.

The new church will accommodate 850 parishioners, community programs, and classrooms, which are traditionally relegated to lower levels. Here, they move up to the top three stories of the garage structure, including a sundeck off a top-floor community room. A subbasement was excavated for bathroom facilities; the sanctuary starts 20 feet below grade and ascends three stories. Rugged industrial elements of the parking structure were maintained and exposed. A large glass central bay allows light in and opens onto the street. As there is no height limit on house-of-worship steeples, the elevator bulkhead was slipped into the tower while a steel cross continues up the shaft to 85 feet. All the elements conspire to create an environment that’s decidedly contemporary. “They want to attract a hip urban demographic,” said Tim Eckersly, a principal at Gertler & Wente. “It’s a very young crowd, the average age is about 30 and they want to keep that following, so they didn’t want a traditional church.”

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