Livin’ on a prayer: Local group fights to save Flatbush church from destruction

Livin’ on a prayer: Local group fights to save Flatbush church from destruction
Respect Brooklyn

They’re praying to save this church.

A local group is pushing the city to landmark a treasured Flatbush church that neighbors worry will soon be sold and sacrificed for profit.

Conservation group Respect Brooklyn began the process in December with an official request to the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission, urging them to grant landmark status to the Presbyterian Church at 494 East 23rd St.

“It would be an incredible shame to lose this architecturally and historically significant building and church, especially since other works by the same notable architects have been preserved in other parts of NYC,” read the petition. “This part of Brooklyn remains woefully without individual landmarks and therefore valuable historic resources in this area such as this over century old church are vulnerable to insensitive alteration and even demolition.”

An LPC representative recently responded to that request, saying that while the issue warranted further analysis to determine the church’s cultural significance, it remained a low priority.

“The agency has reviewed the church’s architectural and historical qualities, and has determined that more study is needed to determine its significance,” said Kate Lemos McHale. “Such a study is not currently among the agency’s citywide priorities. Please understand that in a city the size of New York, with its many religious structures, the Commission must be very selective in choosing examples of this building type for consideration.”

The church, which was first constructed in 1898, is currently owned by the Presbytery of New York, but is listed for sale as a development site by Colliers International real estate agency, leaving neighbors to fear its impending destruction by a potential buyer.

A Respect Brooklyn member blasted the Commission’s reluctance to move with urgency toward granting the site landmark status, which would prevent any future alteration to the building’s exterior, comparing the process to a Carroll Gardens building that was given protected status mere weeks after it was listed for sale.

“Such priorities sometimes seem to be political and not based on urgent need and merit. Just look at the record time the agency landmarked the Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten in Carroll Gardens,” said Linda Allende. “Such swift action in that instance, compared with the LPC response in this case, proves that the LPC can act when they want, regardless of the need to study an issue. So what is the difference?”

The Historic District Council, a city-wide nonprofit advocacy organization, joined the effort to landmark the church, arguing that the Commission should be particularly sensitive to preservation of religious structures.

“Houses of worship all over the city are under assault, as some congregations have become obsolete. However, that does not relegate these small masterpieces to functional obsolescence,” said Executive Director Simeon Bankoff. “Much can be done to adapt religious structures for new uses, and with the LPC’s oversight, this task could be done exceptionally well.”

Respect Brooklyn is urging the public to support the effort by signing onto their petition, which currently boasts more than 150 signatures, and by emailing Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilman Mathieu Eugene.

The group remains hopeful that added public interest, along with the recent acknowledgement of the issue by the Commission, will be enough to secure protected status to the beloved building, said Respect Brooklyn member Harry Bubbins.

“We welcome this interest from the LPC and our request was the product of over 100 hours of research,” he said. “They have shown that they can and do carry out this work swiftly, but for some reason they haven’t yet here. We urge them to make Flatbush and this building, in particular, a priority and move on to the next step.”

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577.