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Historic Church Redesign Gets Approval After 'Pockmarked' Look Revised

By Emily Frost | December 3, 2014 4:40pm
 Community Board 7 approved the new design plans for the conversion of the church at 361 Central Park into condos. 
361 Central Park West Church Conversion Approved
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A proposal to convert a historic church into condos won community board approval Tuesday after architects agreed to eliminate dozens of windows that board members had argued would leave the building looking "pockmarked."

The architects behind the plan to convert the 100-year-old landmarked Crenshaw Christian Center East at 361 Central Park West into about 20 market-rate apartments told Community Board 7 that they removed 28 windows from their design — a move they thought would appease naysayers who'd previously rejected the plan. 

Last month, board members said the plan by Li Saltzman Architects and GKV Architects to add 70 windows made the massive stone structure look like it had been "shot out [with] a machine gun." 

Instead of adding 23 small windows to the church's north side, as was presented in November, the architects' new design featured three long windows spanning nearly the entire height of the building that they described as "ribbons" of glass. 

Board members called the new long windows "a vast improvement," but neighboring residents who largely oppose the project disagreed.

Susan Simon, a 35-year resident thought the "ribbons" looked more like something she'd expect from a "Lincoln Center project," rather than the redesign of a historic church. 

Others called the changes "inappropriate" and felt they disrupted the overall composition of the building.

On the south side, which can be seen from West 96th Street, the architects also took out five windows that were criticized by the board. They kept the 13 new windows on the west side, which is not visible from the street. 

The plan still calls for the removal of the church's stained-glass windows, a point of contention for many board members, architect Judith Saltzman said.

While board member Ping Kwan noted that "there’s still something awkward and ungainly about [the design]," he and other members thought the architects had incorporated enough of their suggestions to win approval. 

Without a new congregation willing to take on the financial burden of maintaining the building, a condo conversion was probably the only option for it, board members conceded. 

"This is perhaps the best chance this building is going to get to survive," board member Mark Diller said.

The project will go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Dec. 9 for review.