Shrinking City...Shirking Church?
I've been interested in old things about as long as I can remember. From the building trades and learning how to erect old style post and beam passive solar buildings in Vermont, driving 25 year old German cars that never seem to break down, fixing up and living in historic property or even my academic pursuits in history...the appreciation and fascination for our built environment, praised by so many, is quickly developing into a burning nausea.

We learned on Wednesday in the Buffalo News that the Catholic Church here locally is shrinking at faster pace than we had ever thought possible. And this means...
  • "It is never easy to make a decision like this," said Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, who toured Immaculate Conception on April 21 and conferred with the diocesan Priests' Council before making the decision. "But over the years the parish population has dwindled significantly, and the church, rectory and adjacent school need approximately $830,000 in repairs. The church itself is quickly becoming an unsafe building."
The plan to abandon the Immaculate Conception Church at Elmwood and Edward is in full swing. Here's some history and pictures of the Immaculate Conception which we can expect will look like the familiar sites only now visible on the city's east-side. A boarded up church on Elmwood? It's coming in July!

What lessons are we learning from the adaptive re-use of these old church buildings?

There are two outstanding examples that come to mind. St. Mary of Sorrows on Genesee has been successfully transformed into the King Urban Life Center. Remember, it was Bishop Edward Head who wanted to demolish St. Mary of Sorrows. I had the opportunity to tour the building recently and it's really an oasis. We also learn that the Zion Dominion has sold their building to a local business and is moving to The Chapel in Amherst.

And when the lessons go wrong? What happens?
Transfiguration Church - Interior Transfiguration Church - Interior Transfiguration Chruch - 1940
click to enlarge
At 929 Sycamore on the city's east side we have a stunning text book example of demolition by neglect in its advanced stages. I photographed the Transfiguration Church in January. I found huge holes in the roof where the slate used to be and plenty of broken windows which gives the church that bombed out Sarajevo-like look and feel.

The city's official property description lists 929 Sycamore as belonging to Paul Francis Associates, Inc. One of the adjacent buildings at 34 Stanislaus, according to the city's official property description is owned by the Islamic Society of America. (Anybody, I need that link.)
Transfiguration Church

Transfiguration Church Transfiguration Church Transfiguration Church
click to enlarge
So what's next for the Immaculate Conception church? Some one on Buffalo Issues Alert thought it might make a cool brewery! I really doubt if there are any takers and any reasonable developer will most probably pass on the project and perhaps site what's happening at Delaware & Tupper as the reason. Meanwhile, who is going to hold Bishop Kmiec accountable for this property? $830,000 of repairs - sounds like there might be a few building code violations here. In the past property like this has often been "flipped" to un-suspecting congregations that think they are getting the deal of the century.

Two other examples to ponder when considering what to do with Bishop Kmiec's decsion to close the doors at Elmwood & Edward - 768 Broadway which is collapsing by neglect and 198 Emslie, a once beautiful campus of buildings, that may not make another winter. Both places can no longer be maintained by their congregations.
Broadway & Fox 198 Emslie Street
click to enlarge
Nauseous yet? Here are some more pics and stunningly depressing interior shots of the Transfiguration Church taken by David Kohrman in 2003. The same guy who is documenting Forgotten Detroit.
Imagine the headlines. "Church-Flipping" scam hits Buffalo - again!

Related Post: "Demolition by Neglect" Meets Urbex
Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faq


Craig said...

I know you're East-Side oriented, but don't forget the Bryant Parish Condominiums at Richmond and Bryant.

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