The Grace Episcopal Church’s Memorial Hall may be one of the oldest buildings in downtown Jamaica, but right now its historical significance will not be recognized among other famous buildings in the city.
The City Council overturned the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s landmarking designation for the hall Tuesday afternoon with a 47-1 vote after its administrators made it clear to elected officials in Queens that they did not want the honor.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), one of the members who voted for the reversal, said that even though getting a landmark designation was a prestigious honor, it would have cost the religious community dearly.
“They are a church that is losing membership. They are facing a dwindling operation budget,” he said.
The church and local groups for meetings, parties and other occasions use the hall at 155-24 90th Ave. It was built in 1912 as an extension to the church and includes intersecting gables, tall chimneys and bay windows.
The church did not return several phone calls for comment, but the pastor of the church, the Rev. Darryl James, told TimesLedger Newspapers last month that no one was able to attend the hearings before the LPC made its designation even though administrators were against the proposal.
“There was a breakdown in communication,” Comrie said.
A spokeswoman for the LPC said it would continue to work with the congregation to preserve their history in a mutually beneficial manner.
“The Landmarks Commission’s unanimous vote to designate the Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall as a New York City landmark speaks to its significance not only to Jamaica, but also to the entire City,” LPC spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said in a statement.
The hall was landmarked by the LPC along with three other buildings in the borough as part of Queens Day Oct. 26.
The councilman said the church leaders sought his help after the LPC made the designation because they had concerns about how the landmarking would affect their future. Under the landmarking guidelines, building owners cannot make any physical modifications without approval from the city.
The councilman said those guidelines are costly for property owners, which is problematic for the church since its membership has gone from more than a thousand worshipers to 300 in the last 15 years. The hall is also due for major renovations, according to Comrie.
“The whole building needs a major rehab,” he said.
James said the church needed repairs in 2002 and the landmark status cost them $30,000 in repairs.
Comrie said unlike other landlords or developers, the church has no plans to modify the building into something that sticks out like a sore thumb among the other historical places in the area.
“They want to make the building more functional. They don’t want to tear it down or make it a high rise,” he said.
This is not the first time the Council has overturned the LPC’s decision to landmark a historical southeast Queens building. Plans to make the Jamaica Savings Bank at 161-02 Jamaica Ave. were nixed by City Hall in 1974 and in 1992 after its owners addressed their concerns about the designation to the Council.
Three years ago new owners and the Council reached an agreement and the 112-year-old building was finally designated.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2011 Community News Group
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