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

For Heaven’s sake: A local group aims to preserve Flatbush Presbyterian Church, at E. 23rd Street and Foster Avenue, from destruction.
Brooklyn Paper
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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 or by calling (718) 260–4577.
Updated 10:49 am, April 11, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Anonymous from Bed Stuy says:
Similarly in Bed Stuy, the Mt. Pisgah Baptist church (formerly St. Ambrose) is for sale along with its school on Throop/Dekalb. This is another architectural treasure that must be saved (the church building)
April 11, 2019, 10:50 am
Mai Tai from Gravesend says:
Under de Blasio another beautiful landmark religious building sacrificed on the alter of Big bucks for developers and construction interests. It really is a sin.
April 11, 2019, 1:53 pm
Tyler from pps says:
So, which of these pro-landmark groups is going to provide the millions of $$ to make the current own “whole” when/if landmark status greatly reduces the development potential of the property? And they have to sell at a far lower price.
April 11, 2019, 6:22 pm
Vicki Pedia from Nunaya says:
Tyler, great thinking! Hope you feel that way before you pull the lever for your idols Bernie and AOC! $$$
April 11, 2019, 7:14 pm
Alsivi from Kensington says:
We need fewer churches and more housing.
April 13, 2019, 10:49 am
Nancy from Flatbush says:
Just signed the petition and shared with our tenant association and local resident's association, thank you.
April 15, 2019, 11:20 am
Crawdad from Flatbush says:
Brooklyn needs housing, not abandoned churches. It isn't like Flatbush is exactly bursting with Presbyterians, but it sure as heck needs new housing.
April 18, 2019, 12:10 am

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