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Thread: Shocking church demolition

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Shocking church demolition

    Wow. Just wow.

    http://blog.timesunion.com/advocate/...patricks/3742/

    Probably not winning any APA awards with this plan.

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Check out what's about to replace it: a standard parking-forward plan for a mid-end supermarket. The neighborhood surrounding the church site has an urban character, with homes and storefronts fronting close to or on the sidewalk. Looks like New England working-class vernacular.

    http://g.co/maps/nbtys

    Two things:

    1) Did the powers that be consider a site plan that respects the urban scale and context of the location?

    Maybe. From the Times-Union:

    Well, consider that Mayor Michael Manning just fired Rosemary Nichols, the city's director for planning and community revitalization, from part of her job. He removed her from the St. Patrick's proposal review team ó ostensibly for failing to be gung-ho about the project.
    2) Many Northeastern cities are struggling with closing Catholic parishes, and how to preserve and reuse the sites. It's very difficult to find other large congregations of any faith with the financial resources to replace the parish and conduct repairs and renovations. Many dioceses place heavy restrictions on the reuse of a former church building, balking at any use that could be considered "sinful" or contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Many gorgeous churches and cathedrals are located in distressed, depopulating neighborhoods whose fortunes are unlikely to be reversed for many decades.

    Watervilet isn't a dying community, unlike much of the East Side of Buffalo, where there has been too many tragic parish closings to count. Still, the parish probably suffered from a decline in household sizes, and decreasing church attendance.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    In a perfect world the public uproar would be loud enough to halt this shameful development. There seems to be some judging by the comments to the article, but perhaps itís not loud enough to catch the ear of the mayor and council? I have to give kudos to the former director for taking the axe rather than supporting this awful plan.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Without knowing the community and its needs I think a better idea would be adaptive reuse and turning it into a community center or other civic use. Hell, even a school. Tearing down that building is a shame. It looks awesome.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    The Catholic church is hemmoraging in almost all urban communities. Unfortunately, it seems to be chasing the allmighty dollar and constructing newer churches in suburban areas. In many cases they have lost what gave them humanity.

    The school itself looks like its been closed for years. The parking lot is falling apart. The church still looks good, but the diocese most likely will abandon any support for it.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Huck View post
    Without knowing the community and its needs I think a better idea would be adaptive reuse and turning it into a community center or other civic use. Hell, even a school. Tearing down that building is a shame. It looks awesome.
    Suggestions for such reuse always come up for churches in Buffalo. What do you do with the sanctuary, though? How do you heat its cavernous spaces? What do you do with the old community center, if there is one nearby? What becomes of the liturgical art, which is often integrated into the structure itself?

    In some parts of Buffalo, and probably Detroit and Chicago too, there might have been several large Catholic churches in a square mile area. Population densities used to be astronomically high on Buffalo's East Side, and much the area was once ethnically homogeneous; solidly Polish. In Polonia, there used to be five Catholic churches, all within a five to ten minute walk from all the others. Now there's three (St Stanislaus, Corpus Christi, St. Aldabert's), all in a now predominantly African-American neighborhood where very few Poles remain. The congregations remain open mainly for the sake of nostalgia. They pack them in from the suburbs for holidays, but during the rest of the year masses will be attended only by the few remaining babchas. One former church (Mother of the Rosary) is now a mosque (Darul Uloom Al Madania). One is an urban ruin (Transfiguration).



    In other neighborhoods, there were different ethnic groups that each wanted their own parish, so the result would be a Polish Catholic church a couple of blocks away from an Italian Catholic church, which might be a half mile down the street from a German Catholic church.

    The sanctuaries and related buildings are usually stunning. It's amazing that they got built to begin with, given the limited resources of the mostly working-class communities that funded their construction. They should be saved, but how?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    This is a problem of architectural heritage in the US. My dad grewup in Buffalo's Polonia neighborhood in the 1950s (the final decade of the urban/ethnic heydays for the neighborhood), and when I was there with him in 1998 he was noticeably disturbed by the neighborhood's "fall". Though he hadn't lived there since about 1964 or been in the neighborhood since the early 1980s.

    But places change and if a beautiful old church buildiing has to be demolished I would hope that much of the quality materials (finish/structural brick, real limestone/granite/whatever stone finish, decorative stone/ceramic details, etc) get saved and repurposed, and not simply unceremiously dumped in a landfill.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  8. #8
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Watervilet isn't a dying community, unlike much of the East Side of Buffalo, where there has been too many tragic parish closings to count. Still, the parish probably suffered from a decline in household sizes, and decreasing church attendance.
    Dan, I'm not sure if you've been out that way recently, but I'd characterize Watervliet as a longstanding blue-collar community hanging on by a thread in this economic climate. There's a lot of disinvestment and property neglect, although probably not on the level of Albany and Troy (which might approach East Buffalo levels). The Capitol Region is faring better on the whole than upstate NY, but that's deceiving in that the region includes Saratoga County where the vast majority of the economic gains have taken place over the last 50 years. Yes, the familiar story of jobs and people flocking to the suburbs, although in the case of the Capitol Region it seems more exaggerated in that there is such a huge discrepancy between urban and suburban, and so few examples of urban revitalization. I'd even say there's a prevailing demolition mindset, in that the best solution (in the minds of most people) is to level neighborhoods and start over with suburban-style development such as what is proposed with this plan for a Price Chopper.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I would never put my job in jeopordy over a church.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    From the various comments on the Albany-area blogs and newspapers, there actually are not a few people who would be happy to see the church razed and replaced with the Price Chopper (even though there's already one not far away). If enough people support the demolition, and no one wants to reuse or remodel the church, well then... I guess once the next generation grows up they will look back on what their parents destroyed/left to rot and marvel at the insanity of it (just as I look back at the flattening of US cities in the 50s and can't help but think that everyone back then must have been suffering from lead poisoning). Well, either that or the next generation will say "meh, whatever" and return to the screens of their social networking gadgets.

    The tragedy is that in a wealthier city along the coast, this church would probably have been converted to condos or lofts or a performance space a long time ago. Actually, there is a good precedent for a nearby institution (RPI in Troy, right across the Hudson) renovating an old, similarly-shaped seminary chapel for a computer lab. This shows that these buildings can be ingeniously reused by creative, thoughtful developers.

    A similar church in Albany collapsed last summer from lack of use. No one was interested in it* (I think an out-of-town speculator bought it at auction for a couple hundred bucks and forgot about it) and it just quietly rotted away until it fell apart. Apparently this church in Watervliet has maintenance issues too. It's understandable why few people would want to tackle a project like this; the raze-and-plop-a-strip method is so much easier and cheaper.

    *The potentially-valuable stained glass Tiffany windows survived and were salvaged. Amazingly, the church was designed by the same architect who did St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC; just goes to show that there still probably are plenty of historically-significant gems out there flying under the radar, completely vulnerable to neglect and destruction. I suppose this wouldn't be a big deal if we still had the ability to design new buildings more beautiful than the old ones we're losing, but IMO that's sooo not the case anymore!

  11. #11
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    A few street-level shots I took a few years ago of the churches in Polonia, and the surrounding neighborhood. All of these churches are in an area of about a square mile. I've never seen a neighborhood fall so far so fast as Polonia.

    St. Stanislaus (still open)









    Corpus Christi (still open)





    St. Aldabert's (still open)



    Darul Uloom Al Madania (former Mother of the Rosary)



    Transfiguration (abandoned)





    St. Ann's (just closed; the former German Catholic parish, later an African-American parish)





    Around the neighborhood.















    I've told people in Buffalo the only way many of these churches can remain open is to force suburbanites at gunpoint to move into the city, take away their birth control, move their parents in with them, convert them all to Catholicism, and make them attend daily mass. Those wood-frame telescoping houses sitting on 25' lots were once home to 10 or more people. Get 400 or 500 people living on an East Side block like back in 1950, and those churches will be booming again.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  12. #12
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    OK. Not all churches can or should be saved. Out here there is one historicallly and architecturally significant Catholic church, which has been preserved (no mass). Thanks for the reality check.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Dan, those churches are amazing! Geez, they're easily just as beautiful as the neighborhood churches tucked away in old European cities (makes sense, considering that these were all built by European immigrants). I find the dreary rows of "cottage homes" offputting, though. And it's kinda weird to see these masonry masterpieces towering above a sea of ramshackle and comparatively-ugly and plain wood houses (But I guess that's what medieval European cities looked like before they were rebuilt in brick and stone).

    Luckily virtually every eastern and Midwest town/city has at least one of these beauties. I doubt they'll ever completely fade away, even if the interior programming changes.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    The wrecking ball has been swung. Here are the photos from the scene of the crime:
    http://www.timesunion.com/local/arti...#photo-4475896

    New York's SEQR rules don't offer much in the way of protection of historic resources unfortunately..

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