Upper West Side Church Championed by Celebrities Won’t Be Razed for Now

An Upper West Side congregation that sought to tear down its church building, a Manhattan landmark, and sell the property to a developer — to the consternation of some neighbors, including a growing list of celebrities — has put the plans on hold.

The congregation, members of West Park Presbyterian Church, had said for decades that it did not have the money to fix up the crumbling 19th-century Romanesque Revival building. Instead, its members hoped the sale of the property, to a developer who planned to turn it into a high-end apartment building, would help to sustain the broader work of the church, including serving people in need.

But the 19th-century building was designated a landmark in 2010. To demolish it, the church needed permission from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which members sought in 2022. The request prompted an upwelling of support for the building’s preservation from supporters, including elected officials, as well as Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo.

In a letter sent to the commission on Friday, lawyers for the church said it was withdrawing its application because of a lawsuit involving a lease dispute filed by the church against one of the tenants.

The commission was scheduled to vote on the church’s application on Tuesday. The church said in a statement on Friday that it planned to try again when the lawsuit was resolved.

But supporters of the preservation of the building said they hoped the move might lead to a different future for the building.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Gale Brewer, a council member who represents the Upper West Side and who helped make the building a landmark, over the objections of the congregation. She said she hoped the hold could lead to someone else buying the building with plans not to tear it down.

The dispute over the church had drawn nationwide attention because of the celebrities who had rallied to preserve the building. In addition to Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Damon, the actor Wendell Pierce, the comedian Amy Schumer, the rapper Common and others had spoken out in favor of preservation. Mr. Ruffalo even cornered Mayor Eric Adams at the Tribeca Film Festival to defend the building.

The church had also become a flashpoint in the debate over the city’s housing crisis. Some supporters for more development said the celebrities and the well-connected Upper West Side residents who came to the building’s defense were obstructing housing that the city needs.

A housing shortage is one of the main reasons rent and home prices in New York City are high.

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