August 10, by Nathaly Pesantez
An Elmhurst church, built in the early 1700s and deemed the second-oldest religious building in the city, could achieve landmark status next month.
The Old Saint James Episcopal Church, the wood-framed, rectangular structure built in 1735-36 and located at 86-02 Broadway, was an item brought up for designation before the New York City Landmarks Commission in an Aug. 8 public hearing.
A researcher on behalf of the Landmarks Commission said the church is historically significant for its ties to early colonial settlement in Queens and with the beginnings of the Protestant Episcopal Church of New York.
The church, close to 300-years-old, is the second-oldest extant religious building, and was also used by British troops during the Revolutionary War, according to the Landmarks Commission. While the church maintains some of its 18th century finishes, it is currently not in use, with part of the property serving as a parking lot.
At the public hearing, Rev. Andrew Durbridge, the real estate manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island—the trustees of the Elmhurst church—expressed support for the potential landmark designation, but not without a few caveats.
“The designation of one of our buildings significantly increases the cost of maintenance and the renovation work, which requires increased deployment of our resources that could otherwise be used for ministry work,” he said.
Durbridge also said old buildings that become landmarks often cease to offer functional space, and bring about challenges in making the building accessible and environmentally sustainable.
But to counter issues with the potential landmark designation, the trustees commissioned CWB Architects, a Brooklyn based architecture firm, to design a concept for the site that includes restoring the old church and developing a new building at the rear, along with a landscape garden and meeting areas to link the two buildings, according to Durbridge.
“The development will produce much needed revenue needed to sustain and maintain the old building, plus provide for ministry funding for the current church,” Durbridge said at the meeting.
A decision date for designation will be set for September, the Landmarks Commission said.
The Old Saint James Episcopal Church, modified in 1883, has lost some of its ornamental trim over the years, and parishioners approached the Landmarks Commission to stop a sale that would have demolished the building in 1998. In 2004, the Landmark Conservancy Sacred Sites program helped restore the church to its 1883 appearance.