By Carol Tannenhauser
An empty, gutted, 117-year-old landmark church on 96th Street and Central Park West is a step closer to gaining new life as the home of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), after a June 9th ruling in the museum’s favor by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
The museum’s new digs will have exhibit halls, a workshop and performance space and a cafe, along with a terrace where the museum can also host exhibits. Two elevators will zip visitors and staff up and down the various floors. The latest vote is a big win for the museum and architects FXCollaborative, giving them a “certificate of appropriateness” to proceed.
It will be a remarkable transition from what is now a cavernous space that was designed to hold religious services. Here’s what the inside of the church looked like as of last year.
Changes to the exterior may not jump out at the casual viewer. The transition is hard to spot in the design plans presented to the commission.
Here’s what the church looks like more recently.
CMOM is the second group to attempt to repurpose the First Church of Christ Scientist, which was completed in 1903, and designed by Carrère and Hastings, the same architects who designed the main branch of the New York City Public Library, on 42nd Street. In 2014, a developer bought the church for $26 million with the intention of turning it into condominiums, but couldn’t get zoning approval.
The museum then bought the property, but its initial designs didn’t pass muster. The issues that held things up primarily involved the church’s stained glass windows, which are works of art themselves, but presently darken the interior of the building and display religious iconography; the doors, which are not accessible; the roof, which is being built upon; and the signage.
The windows won’t have the same stained glass images, but will retain a similar character and materials otherwise.
The unique design of the building creates interesting spaces — like “attic” areas with slanted ceilings.
And the roof will have playful spaces for exhibits and gardens — and not a bad view.
“We are grateful to have received unanimous approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission on our plans to restore and revitalize CMOM’s new home,” a spokesperson for the museum emailed WSR. The architects are FXCollaborative.
“It’s a compromise,” said Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmarks West, a local nonprofit preservation group that had advocated against prior versions of the design. “But we have to realize what our purpose is here. The community has been behind CMOM all along. We love the idea that this building will return to public use. And we’re excited they’re staying in the community after all these years. They were founded here and they have a future here.”
View more plans for the new Children’s Museum of Manhattan here. It is expected to open in 2023.