Children’s Museum Wins Key Vote to Turn Church Into New Museum With a Playful Roof Terrace

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.


Click to enlarge.

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.

The reduced roof addition.

And the roof will have playful spaces for exhibits and gardens — and not a bad view.


A rendering of the roof.

“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.

For more in-depth coverage of the renovation issues and approval process, click here and here.

ART, HISTORY, NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Harriet says:

      Hooray !!! I’m all in favor of landmarks preservation, but I believe this type of committee often does not allow for any change and would like the City to stay stuck in the 19th or early 20th Century. Buildings should allowed to evolve and have their exteriors altered to allow for new uses, as long as the “basic framework” is visible.

    2. Samantha says:

      It’s shameful the museum demolished the beautiful, 100-year old church interior with its elaborate Beaux-Arts plaster ceiling. What were they thinking? And now they’re planning to rip out the LaFarge stained glass windows? Shame on CMOM. I’d rather take my kids across the park for the afternoon.

      • your_neighbor says:

        Well they aren’t running a church so they have no need for an interior with pews and religious iconography. Interior wasn’t landmarked because it didn’t deserve to be landmarked.
        I’m sure they aren’t going to “rip out” the stained glass windows. If the stained glass actually has any value to anybody in the world then hopefully the museum can sell them off and use the proceeds for more children’s programs.

      • Jsc says:

        Stained glass will be donated to a museum per earlier west side rag reports

      • Charlie says:

        The interior of the church was demolished by the prior owner; the developer that wanted to convert the building to high priced condos. CMOM bought the building long after this demolition had been completed.

    3. Rob G. says:

      Finally, a bit of brightness in an otherwise terrible cycle of news for the neighborhood. So happy for CMOM and the future visitors of this wonderful institution.

    4. Linda Umans says:

      I hope, when it’s completed, provisions will be made for free or almost free admission for the local school children to enjoy the exhibits and the marvelous interior.

    5. anon says:

      I wonder if the stained glass windows would have been thought objectionable if they were not Christian images but something like Muslim. I find it strange that any organization would buy a landmarked church and then seek to do away with an reference to that church’e religion.

    6. Mark Maas says:

      96th Street subway staircases narrow and overcrowded now. How to accommodate an influx of visitors? When might the elevator for the station be completed. That will help, but current conditions are tough especially during peak hours.

    7. Carla says:

      I really hope that the plan proceeds. It sounds amazing.

    8. Sam8ham says:

      Anyone know who is taking the space CMOM is vacating?

    9. Curious neighbor says:

      Hello. Does anyone know what the plans for the current site of the CMOM are? Is that building on W83 land marked? Or could it be bought by developers to be torn down and give way to new condos? Thanks

    10. Lilly Kelly says:

      I personally feel that a rooftop play area will be dangerous for children of any ages. That is a pretty steep drop if one must have fall. If they wanted to make that a cafeteria for adults that would seem more feasible than having children go and play up there. That is just my opinion. Other than that I think it’s going to look really nice without messing up the profile of the Avenue.

      • Harriet says:

        The JCC on Amsterdam Ave has had a rooftop playground since it opened 20 years ago. No problems. A bit of over-caution I suspect. It’s not like a child can just walk off the roof.

      • Minx says:

        Some schools have rooftop play areas – this is not dangerous. But I admire your spirit to find fault in this – you are a true UWS!

      • lynn says:

        Dalton and Horace Mann have always had rooftop playgrounds for children. They’ll be safe. I’m thrilled that this project is finally taking place!

        • Renee Belzile says:

          back in 1983 I remember West Side Montessori School having a rooftop playground and the little ones enjoy it!

    11. Isabella says:

      A good synopsis but not all the details are completely right. The stained glass windows will be retained as much as is possible as per the grant of approval of the LPC. One window on the north side of the building will be kept in its entirety. The others on the north and south sides will retain all cartouches with cherubs and the design elements will be kept, center and border. The only elements which will be removed are the cameos (ovals) and have religious iconography in them. The ovals will be replaced with clear glass. The fate of the East window was unclear. But the Landmarks Commission asked CMOM to retain as much of the decorative elements of the stained glass as is possible. The windows are considered masterpieces and were designed by the same artist as did the rotunda in the Library of Congress. The LPC intends to be involved with how the windows are treated.

    12. jsf says:

      That’s wonderful! Given the propensity for the NYC Board to make horrendous mistakes, I’m thrilled that they got this one right!.