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'Pockmarked' Condo Design Mars Historic Upper West Side Church, Locals Say

By Emily Frost | November 14, 2014 1:23pm | Updated on November 17, 2014 8:53am
 The design has too many windows, which mars the look of the church, residents and Community Board 7 members said. 
Redesign of Historic Central Park West Church
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A plan to add 70 windows to a historic Central Park West church outraged Upper West Side residents when they got a first glimpse of it this week.

Community Board 7 members said they were shocked by the proposal, which would punch dozens of holes in the facade of Crenshaw Christian Center East, a 100-year-old landmarked church at 361 Central Park West and 96th Street, so that it can be converted to condos.

"All of these windows, especially on the north — it’s almost like it’s been shot out [with] a machine gun," said board member Peter Samton, who characterized the new look as "pockmarked."

New owners listed as 361 CPW LLC bought the bought the historic building for $26 million over the summer and must either enlarge existing windows or add smaller ones so that the towering space can be carved up into 32 condos ranging from one-bedrooms to four-bedrooms, said Judith Saltzman, the project's architect.

On the sides that are most visible to passerby, there will be fewer new windows, but on the north side, which abuts a residential building, the owners want to add 42 windows to the facade.

The church "does require change and we are trying to do it the most sensitive way we can," Saltzman said as she and several colleagues presented the designs to a packed CB7 meeting Thursday night.

The unveiling of the designs elicited gasps and grumbling from the audience, and prompted about a dozen people to speak out in opposition, saying the plan would harm the character of hte neighborhood.

Board member Miki Fiegel was "so shocked I didn’t have any words," she said. One resident yelled out, "This is a joke."

"I’ve lived here for 40 years and this is the most important part of our community — this church...It’s the only thing that’s left. I feel awful about seeing it changed," said resident Dixie Martin.

Residents said they wished the building could become a cultural space or a meeting hub for the community instead of condos.

The renovations would also include lifting the rooftop skylight by about 4 feet and adding mechanical equipment to the roof, changes neighbors worried would block their view of Central Park.

And some residents were also upset about the plan to remove all religious iconography from the stained glass windows. Saltzman said she hoped a museum or private collection could preserve the glass.

The plan gave resident Susan Brody chills, she said.

"The removal of artifacts on the basis of religion has been characteristic of revolutionary governments and makes me very nervous," she said.

Community Board 7's preservation committee voted to reject the designs for the church, and the full board will weigh in on Dec. 2.

The board's opinion is advisory, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission will make a final decision after a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 9.

Fiegel concluded that the proposed designs were no way to treat a historic church.

"This is a magnificent building that deserves some respect," she said. "It could get a little more."