The West End Collegiate Church will get the money it needs from a project approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday. The church, an individual landmark located at 245 West 77th Street, has bought the property to its north from the Collegiate School, at 260 West 78th Street, where an existing structure will be demolished. It will be replaced by a new residential building that will be connected internally to a restored and expanded 378 West End Avenue.
The Collegiate Church was formally organized way back in 1628, with its first service being in Dutch and French. Skip ahead over 200 years to 1892 and the West End Collegiate Church and its school to the immediate east are dedicated on 77th Street, designed by Robert W. Gibson. In 1968, the school added a building at 260 West 78th Street, known as Platten Hall. It was designed by Ballard Todd Associates, but when the West End – Collegiate Historic District Extension was designated, the structure was deemed a no style building.
Sort of in between those structures and on a separate timeline, a residential building was constructed at 378 West End Avenue. Designed by the firm of Schwarts & Gross and completed in 1915, it was deemed to be Renaissance Revival in style. Until recently, it was owned by the school, which is moving down to West 62nd Street after January 2018.
Now, the church itself owns the entire joined lot. Senior Pastor Michael Bos said the church wants to develop it itself so that it can both get the money it needs for restoration work on the church and aid in its philanthropic efforts. Bos called the church an “architectural gem.” The restoration of the church was not presented on Tuesday. It will be presented at a later date.
As for the work that will be done, it includes a brand-new building designed by COOKFOX Architects’ Rick Cook. Bos said it was important to find someone who could understand the Upper West Side. Bos was impressed by Cook’s work on Front Street, 130 West 12th Street, and 300 Lafayette Street.
Preservation consultant Bill Higgins of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners called the church, based on Vleeshal in Haarlem, Netherlands (that’s the Haarlem where our Harlem got its name) itself the city’s best and most elaborate example of the Dutch Revival style. He said it’s a “classic case of a jewel in a setting” and they have the opportunity to create more of a “designed building” then Platten Hall.
The new building will be 18 stories tall, rising to 210 feet, or 234 feet to the top of the bulkhead. Higgins showed several Upper West Side examples of small buildings with larger adjacent buildings.
Cook said that while the total new development area is about 245,000 square feet, only about 60 percent of that will be used. The actual new development will be 148,229 square feet. The new building and 378 West End Avenue will be known as 378 West End Avenue, which will get a modest penthouse addition.
There will be 66 residential units, though it was estimated that if the full area available were used, there could have been 424 units. Of course, a building of that scope on the Upper West Side would never have been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. There will be 19 parking spaces, with a driveway on 78th Street. The main entrance will be on West End Avenue. Residents will use four elevators to ascend within the building, which will have several terrace gardens.
There is a gap between the church and 378, currently occupied by a gate and an odd basketball court. That alley, if you will, will be shrunken by an outcropping of the new construction and the existing space will be replaced by what they will call the Healing Turtle Island Garden. Turtle Island is one of the many nicknames for Manhattan, one given to it by the Lenape.
Cook said his design is a building that “deserves to be there.” He based the colors on the red terra cotta of the church, as well as its metal work.
As for the restoration of 378 West End Avenue, Higgins said it will include new multi-pane six-over-one windows. That will come despite the fact that the original windows, which are not extant, were one-over-one. Higgins pointed to several examples of the architects’ work with six-over-one windows. A balcony removed long ago will also be restored.
Amanda Lehman of COOKFOX said other restorative work will include the cornice, the front door, which will get wonderful grills, and a new awning.
Most of the commissioners welcomed the proposal with open arms. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan called it a “very very exciting project” that has been “sensitively designed.”
Commissioner Frederick Bland said that in all of his years on the commission, he had never seen a better presentation. “[It’s] our job to occasionally talk about demolition” when something mediocre can be replace with something much better, he said. Is demolition appropriate here? “Wildly so,” he said. As for the new construction, he said it was “in the hands of a master.”
Commissioner John Gustafsson said it was not extreme, not excessive, not unnecessary, and not bloated. He said the applicant had “done the impossible.” “Congratulations,” said Commissioner Wellington Chen. Commissionr Diana Chapin said she was “very comfortable” with the proposal.
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron wasn’t satisfied that the applicant had successfully interpreted the Dutch Revival style. Commissioner Michael Goldblum didn’t like the six-over-one windows and said the south-facing façade was “too aggressive” and “overly dominant.”
Srinivasan, however, said that when a proposal is crafted with “so much thought and care, you don’t want to upset the apple cart.” With that, the commission approved the project as presented.
The community is largely supportive of it. Community Board 7 endorsed it. So did Sean Khorsandi of Landmark West!, an Upper West Side preservation advocacy organization. He called it a “provocative proposal” that will reduce density and spotlight the landmarked church. He said the proposal acknowledges its environment. He was unsure of the maintenance of the Healing Turtle Island Garden, but that was his lone concern.
Josette Amato of the West End Preservation Society said the proposal was “respectful of the area’s history.” “The design takes material cues from the landmark church and the landscape of the buildings on West End Avenue,” read a letter from U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler. “The necessary restoration work on 378 West End Avenue pays homage to one of the avenue’s defining buildings by bringing it back to prime condition.”
Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy did express concerns similar to those of Commissioner Goldblum, that its height, scale, and massing were problematic. She did ask that the applicant be asked to reduce the height.