Hungarian church may become a landmark

Photo courtesy of First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York
Building designed by Emery Roth is put on the LPC calendar
By Jason Cohen

A church that has been on the Upper East Side for more than a century may soon become a historic landmark.

On Jan. 22, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced that it was putting the First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York on its calendar.

The church, located at 344 East 69th St., was founded in 1895 and moved to its present building in 1916. Renowned Hungarian architect Emery Roth, who has buildings all over the Upper West and Upper East Sides, designed the church. Roth combined Vienna Secessionist motifs with traditional Hungarian styles, using brick, stucco, tile and stone. In 2000, the church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lehel Frank Deak, a minister with the church, said the LPC visited the church about a year ago, but he and his congregants had no expectations about what will happen.

“Frankly, we were surprised we were approached by the LPC,” he said. “We didn’t have aspirations.”

While the congregation only has 75 members, he said the church has no plans to sell or move. In fact, it has been approached a few times by realtors.

Frank Deak said that if it becomes a landmark, he hopes it will bring more attention and tourists to the church.

“It benefits us because first of all we are very proud to become a landmark,” he remarked. “It certainly speaks to the historical value of the building.”

Zodet Negrón, the director of communications for the LPC, explained that calendaring is the first formal step in the designation process. Once calendared, LPC holds a public hearing on the designation, during which the commission hears testimony from the owners and the community. The public hearing is followed by a public meeting during which the commission will consider the research and testimony from the owner and other stakeholders before voting on the designation. She noted that most items on the calendar do eventually become approved.

Negron explained that before a property is recommended to the commission for consideration, LPC’s research department determines whether the property meets the basic criteria and evaluates the cultural, historical and architectural significance of the building.

According to Negrón, it is quite common for the LPC to designate religious structures as historic. She said there are nearly 500 designated religious structures, many of them within historic districts.

“The First Hungarian Reformed Church is a significant example of a religious property designed by the distinguished New York City architect Emery Roth, and represents Yorkville’s immigrant history and Hungarian-American community,” Negrón said. “A striking example of early-20th-century church architecture, the sophisticated design incorporates both Secessionist and Arts and Crafts details and remains highly intact. The building is prominent in the streetscape, with an 80-foot tall tower that rises above and complements a block of 19th century row houses. With few changes since construction, the building retains its historic materials and design, and continues to serve its Hungarian-American congregation.”