Landmarking of Bowne Street Community Church, originally the Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing, opposed by church representatives at second hearing due to misidentification of landmarked lot. On November 15, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a second hearing on the Bowne Street Community Church at 143-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens. The church was added to Landmarks calendar in 2003, and first heard as part of the Commission’s Backlog Initiative in October 2015. At the backlog hearing, the map incorrectly showed the entire tax lot, including a parking lot and annex was calendared, while only the church portion of the lot had been calendared in 2003. Because there had been no previous public hearing, Landmarks brought the correctly identified lot back for public testimony.
The Church was built as the Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing in 1892, for a congregation dating to the early 17th century. The Church is Romanesque Revival in style, with intricate red brick work. Significant features include the prominent corner tower, and stained glass windows which are thought to be designed by church parishioner and Tiffany Glass Company artist Agnes Fairchild Northrup.
The design is attributed to George Potter, who designed several churches throughout New England and Long Island, as well as the Memorial Town Hall in Monson, Massachusetts, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As a community the Dutch New Netherland, 30 residents of Flushing signed the “Flushing Remonstrance” a petition to Governor Peter Stuyvesant demanding the extension of religious freedom to Quakers and other minority faiths.
As the demographics of Flushing changed in the latter half of the twentieth century, the church merged with another congregation to become the Bowne Street Community Church. In the late 1970s it began hosting the services of Zion Christian Church, serving the Taiwanese immigrant community. The Church is now multidenominational, and holds services in English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish.
At the October hearing the designation was supported by State Senator Tony Avella, a representative of Council Member Peter Koo, and multiple community and preservationist organizations. Congress Member Grace Meng and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky sent letters to the Commission in support of designation. Representatives of the Church said its members favored landmarking, but expressed concern about associated costs.
Peter Koo testified in favor of designation at the second hearing, calling the church a reminder of Flushing’s “rich religious history.” Koo further noted that the church had faced the spectre of demolition in the past.
Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum called the church the only extant reminder of the area’s days as an “elegant upper-middle-class Victorian neighborhood.” Eichenbaum added that the National Park Service had recently approved a study in consideration of creating a park in Flushing celebrating the Flushing Remonstrance, in which the church would likely play a prominent part. Branka Duknik of the Queens Historical Society called the Church “one of the most significant buildings in Flushing.” A representative of the Bayside Historical Society, testified in support of designation, and urged Landmarks to maintain an “appropriate buffer” between the church and any new development. The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn said the church merited designation for both its architecture and its connection to Queens history, but that the annex was of a vernacular design not rising to the significance of the Church’s “high style,” whose excision from the landmark site was appropriate.
Samuel Tai, vice chair of the Church’s governing board, said the majority of board members had voted against endorsing designation. Aaron Chen, Associate Pastor, stated that the “purpose of the church is to preach the gospel,” and that landmarking would distract from its mission and force it divert more of its funds to maintaining the building.
Commissioner Wellington Chen addressed those assembled as an area resident and former Community Board Member. Chen lamented the lack of support from the Church, but recommended to his fellow commissioners that they designate the property, as not just important to the City, but to the nation. Fellow Queens representative Diana Chapin added that the church was a “wonderful memorial” to the role of Women in the production of Tiffany’s glass works.
Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan closed the hearing without setting a date for a vote on designation.
LPC: Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing (Bowne Street Community Church), 143-11 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens (LP-2137) (Nov. 15, 2016).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).