One of the items on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s backlog of items on the calendar since before 2010 came back before it on Tuesday. The LPC once again took up the designation of the Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing. The session was not a vote on the item, but another public hearing.
Located at 38-01 Bowne Street (a.k.a. 143-11 Roosevelt Avenue, a.k.a. 143-19 Roosevelt Avenue), the church as constructed as the Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing between 1891 and 1892, built by Edward Richardson with a design attributed to G.E. Potter. That congregation was established in 1842. It needed to expand and bought this property in 1873, but it took nearly 20 more years to actually construct a second home. The church features stained glass windows by Agnes Fairchild Northrup, who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany. Since 1974, it has been the Bowne Street Community Church.
Designation of the church was put on the commission’s calendar on September 23, 2003, but no public hearing was held until the backlog initiative special public hearing for items in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens on October 8, 2015. According to the commission, at that time, 13 people testified in support of designation and none testified against it. There was a mistake in the map presented at that time. At present, LPC staff has recommended only designating the original church building, not the annex or parking lot.
At Tuesday’s hearing, City Council Member Peter Koo, who is responsible for the recent law, Intro. 775-A, which imposed an unfunded mandate on the LPC, testified in support of designation.
As is often the case, the church, citing fears of increased financial burden, is against designation. A congregant and vice-chair testified that he personally supported designation, but a majority of the board and congregation did not. He said he was “just the messenger.” The chief pastor also testified against designation.
Supporting designation were several preservation groups, as well as local residents. That included Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum, who noted that, like the way Harlem went from a neighborhood filled with people of European origin to one filled with African-Americans, Flushing went from European to Asian. In this case, the church is now largely Taiwanese. Hilda Regier of the Victorian Society noted that there are also services in other languages, including Mandarin, Spanish, and even Korean.
Here is the testimony of the Historic Districts Council, delivered by Barbara Zay:
“Thank you for hearing public testimony today. HDC wishes to reiterate its support for the designation of the former Bowne Street Community Church, both expressed during the Backlog95 proceedings and in 2003, when the building was first calendared. At that time, HDC was concerned about rapid development in this section of Queens, and stated in a letter to then Chair Robert Tierney dated July 17, 2003, that ‘In addition to its deep connection to the area’s religious history, the [Bowne Street Community Church] itself is a visible remembrance of a historic Flushing that is becoming increasingly difficult to find.’ Also at that time, robust discussions took place concerning the parking lot on the eastern side of the church and its potential as a development site. The Commission has encountered the issue of deleterious effects of giant developments looming over or attached to Individual Landmarks many times in the past, including Park Avenue Christian Church, the Dime Savings Bank, the Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building and the Long Island City Clock Tower.
“HDC asks the Commission to consider its role in regulating this structure in the years ahead, and thus, to take the time now to carefully draw boundaries that respect this building. HDC does not wish to restrict the church’s ability to expand or allow for construction next door, but the construction of a tower right up against the building would obscure this beautiful façade and its magnificent Tiffany windows, and would surely be a permanent change. Providing for a sufficient buffer – a matter of several feet even – on the building’s eastern edge would go a long way toward ensuring that the agency can do its best to protect the building and allow it to be read as a freestanding, suburban church as intended, in perpetuity.”
Designation also has the support of the Bayside Historical Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The conservancy’s Andrea Goldman wanted to make it clear that her organization has programs in place to help sacred sites afford the upkeep of a landmark. A resident who has had a view of the church since 1970 said she submitted a petition with 2,400 signatures to the commission.
Commissioner Wellington Chen thanked the speakers who came out in the rain and expressed pride in the church’s place in the history of religious freedom in New York City, and the way people can co-exist even when people of differing views are elected to office. Commissioner Diana Chapin said she is in “complete support” of designation and took pride in the role of women at Tiffany & Co.
No date was set for a vote on designation, but it has been the commission’s goal to clear the items backlog by the end of 2016. Sixteen items from what was originally a list of 95 sites have been designated thus far. Including this church, 13 remain.