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Pastor predicts landmark for old church in Flushing

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Despite a recent plan to demolish the historic Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing, the leader of the institution predicted Monday the building would be landmarked.

"They will landmark the building," said the Rev. Norman Chang even though some members of the congregation have reservations about such a move.

Chang's statement came a day after the congregation's governing board voted unanimously to consider supporting landmark status for the Romanesque revival building constructed in 1892.

Since the board stopped shortly of actually backing landmark status, the members still could devise a plan for the site that does not include landmarking.

But Chang said such a scenario was extremely unlikely, since he believes the city, which has the ultimate say in the matter, will landmark the building regardless of the board's recommendation.

The vote was significant in that it came just a few months after the financially troubled church considered a developer's offer to raze the structure in exchange for monetary help.

Last summer The Clarett Group, a Manhattan company, offered to build a state-of-the-art church for the congregation in exchange for constructing a 20-story apartment building on the property at the corner of Bowne Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

With an endowment of $1.5 million that is shrinking by the day, the church, known for its Tiffany windows, found the offer tempting, especially since the structure is in need of repair. The financial troubles stemmed from a decreasing membership, which now stands at about 160.

The church's board voted to table the Clarett proposal in September, but it still needed to come up with a plan to keep its doors open.

In the meantime, the public outcry against the possible destruction of the church, led by Queens borough historian Stanley Cogan, resulted in Councilman John Liu's (D-Flushing) arranging a meeting between the church and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

As a result of the meeting, the commission has taken an interest in preserving the building.

"We look forward to working with Councilman Liu, the church and the community to designate and protect this worthy building," the commission's chairman, Robert Tierney, recently wrote.

On Sunday, 11 of the 15 board members voted to consider approving the landmark status. The remaining four board members were not present at the meeting.

The church board took its vote with the idea that the city would landmark the building whatever decision the members might reach, Chang said.

"We have no choice, so we cooperate," he said.

Liu, however, said he was trying to help the church come to an agreement with the city.

"I would like to see this happen in a way that there is no opposition," Liu said.

Liu called the vote significant, describing it "as a change in the direction in the thinking of the board of directors."

The church leadership is working on devising a plan to save the institution. The plan will most likely rely on the construction of another building on part of the church's property, church leaders said.

"If the attached building is landmarked, then I will be upset," Chang joked.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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