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Matt Damon Joins the Fight to Protect Historic New York City Church

Matt Damon Joins the Fight to Protect Historic New York City Church

Matt Damon has recently become a key figure in the fight to save the West Park Presbyterian Church, a historic site on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, from being replaced by a $30 million luxury condominium.

The church, housing a 12-member congregation, is in a bind. Against the congregation’s wishes, the church was designated a New York City Landmark. However, church leaders signed a binding contract in 2022 with the condominium’s developer due to a $2 million repair bill they can no longer afford. The church has since filed a hardship application to de-landmark and demolish the building to make way for the condominium, which would have a worship space for the church.

However, the Romanesque Revival building, which houses the church, is also a hub of community and cultural significance. Since 2017, The Center at West Park, a non-profit community performing arts center located within the church, has become an integral part of the local cultural scene, hosting over 300 performances and drawing more than 15,000 audience members.

The Center was established to celebrate arts while raising funds for the church’s upkeep. However, despite years of promises from local leaders, the necessary support never materialized.

Marsha Flowers, an elder of the church and a founding member of the Center at West Park, expressed her frustration over the failed attempts to secure funding for repairs.

“As an elder of the church and a founding member of the Center at West Park, I’m also frustrated with the difficult position we find ourselves in today,” Flowers said. “We helped create the Center in 2017 to celebrate the arts while fundraising for repairs to the building, but the funds never came through despite more than a decade of promises and commitments from local leaders. Our congregation is now focused on creating a new space for worship and the arts, and we hope to use our proceeds to help other churches meet their mission and avoid circumstances like ours.”

Now, actors like Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Wendell Pierce and Common are stepping up to preserve The Center. Damon and Ruffalo are set to perform in Kenneth Lonergan’s play “This Is Our Youth” on November 16 at The Center, with all proceeds that will going to the preservation campaign.

Lonergan spoke with The New York Times and shared was eager to help “keep what’s special about the neighborhood special.”

“I explained the situation to him, and immediately he said, ‘I’m in,’ which is what I thought he would say if he was available,” Lonergan said. “As a matter of fact, he had an apartment one block away from the church for a year or two, maybe. This is going back a ways.”

To save and preserve the space, ticket prices are much steeper than the average show. Tickets to see Damon’s performance start at $500, but the top price for a second performance on Nov. 17 will only be $250. Some seats on the second day of the play will have no fixed admission, and people can pay what they wish.

“For over a decade, the board of the Center at West Park has been working to preserve this important NYC landmark as an accessible cultural resource for the local neighborhood and the NYC performing arts community,” the Center at West Park shared on their campaign page. “Together, we can make our voices heard and show that our community wants more accessible and inclusive spaces for arts and culture, not another luxury high-rise development.”

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