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Upper West Side Church Holds Bake Sale to Raise $11 Million for Renovations

By Leslie Albrecht | August 6, 2010 2:15pm | Updated on August 7, 2010 10:17am
The West Park Presbyterian Church was landmarked after a bitter battle between preservationists and congregants who opposed the landmarking.
The West Park Presbyterian Church was landmarked after a bitter battle between preservationists and congregants who opposed the landmarking.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — How many brownies do you have to sell to raise $11 million?

Preservationists and congregants from West Park Presbyterian Church will find out Sunday, when they hold a bake sale as part of an effort to raise the millions needed to restore the church.

The historic sandstone church at West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue was landmarked earlier this year against the wishes of the congregation, which wanted to convert part of the building into apartments to raise money to fix the church's badly damaged interior.

But preservationists rallied to landmark the 120-year-old building, meaning it can't be altered without permission from the city.

The bitter battle reached a boiling point when a church member was arrested for painting graffiti on scaffolding outside the church criticizing City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who supported the landmarking.

Now both sides have come together to work toward a common goal: restoring West Park Presbyterian to its former glory.

Congregants want to hold services again inside the church, which is in such bad shape that they've been meeting at the nearby Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew.

Preservationists want to fix up the exterior of the church, which they see as one of the Upper West Side's most important buildings.

Restoring the exterior will likely cost about $11 million, and revamping the interior could require another $9 million, said Rev. Robert Brashear.

He said Sunday's bake sale is a symbolic act to show the community that West Park's congregation is "willing to take responsibility for its own future."

"Obviously the whole idea that you're going to raise $10 million with a bake sale is crazy," Brashear said. "On the other hand, there's a sort of simplistic audacity about it that I find very appealing."

Brashear and his flock have recently been cleaning out the church's interior, removing dead pigeons and other debris. Last week Brashear held an outdoor service on the church steps to remind the neighborhood that the congregation is "still here," Brashear said.

Meanwhile, preservationists from Landmark West! are asking supporters to open their checkbooks. Councilwoman Gale Brewer hosted a fundraiser in June for the church, and kicked in a $1,000 donation.

Brewer said she plans to make brownies — her specialty — for Sunday's bake sale.

Additionally, the New York Landmarks Conservancy has set up an account to receive donations for West Park Presbyterian's fundraising efforts. So far it's collected $11,000, a Conservancy spokeswoman said.

Arlene Simon, board president of Landmark West!, said raising millions to save West Park Presbyterian may seem like an insurmountable goal, but she's seen it happen before.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side deteriorated for years, but was saved by a community fundraising campaign, Simon said.

"Twenty years ago it was in disrepair, now it's live and vibrant," she said. "It's an incredible success story."

But Simon noted that doing the same thing for West Park will take a team effort.

"It's only possible with the community's help," she said.

The bake sale is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at West Park Presbyterian, West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.