Inside Transfiguration, finally...

People often ask me, "So, you really think this building can be saved?" Two words roll off my tongue. Granite Works. It's my mantra.

Transfiguration would have been one hundred years old this year and was a featured stop of the recent Tour dé Neglect. I've stopped thinking about trying to save Transfiguration. Now, it's a protracted battle over who is going to front the demolition cost. Tax payers or local attorney? And get this, the guy's mother has an outstanding Housing Court warrant, four years old. He named her president of the corporation. Wonder if she knows? Since starting in Housing Court, Judge Nowak has not seen the file in his court room. Really beginning to wonder why?

It's a lost cause and sad reminder of the deep structural issues facing a weak market city with a declining population. Mix in some Diocesan malfaesance, a Council President living close by who supports Casino development while simultaneously abandoning the unique urban character of his Broadway Fillmore district's heritage buildings - remember the Wollenberg, burned down just six weeks ago - and a floor full of lawyers at City Hall working with an Inspections Dept. that can not seem to locate the responsible party (local attorney, living a few blocks away from City Hall) well, you get this, a photograph taken Sunday afternoon.

Sean (check out his site, wow!) from Toronto's most progressive urban exploration and visual documentary heritage group - DK PhotoGroup - was in town with a few photographer friends over the weekend and went inside.

Here's the flickr slide show: Inside Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration Church, three miles from Elmwood, was first written for Housing Court on March 13, 1997. In the last 8 years Transfiguration has journeyed through Housing Court 61 times and the file, case #869/97 has seen four seperate Housing Court judges. Judge Broderick passed the file to Judge Devlin who tossed it to Common Council President David Franczyk's brother and finally Judge Fiorella issued a warrant for Pauline Nowak [no relation to Judge Nowak] on September 25, 2002. She's an officer of Paul Francis Associates, Inc., the party that bought the crumbling church from Bishop Mansell in October, 1995.

Here's that post from December 2005 - Sign of Things to Come - contains pertinent background information regarding the Dept. of Inspections attempts to nab the perp. You won't want to miss this lovely e-mail exchange between said local attorney, William Trezevant and moi.

Really zen about losing this one. It's the 400-500K demolition bill that Buffalo residents will have to fork over when the place is written up for an emergency demolition at some point that I'm pissed about. Bill, what say you? I'll be here, every Saturday morning. Just love your campaign slogan when you ran for Ellicott District Councilman a few years ago.

For additional background on Transfiguration see the following posts:

Journey to Avoid Housing Court - Part IIIAddtional photosDK's Sattler Theatre
DK's OrphanedSaving TransfigurationImagine this?

Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faqmy flickr
buffalo olmsted parks conservancy


Mark Williams said...


I just read the email exchange between you and William F. Trezevant; though, I am certainly no prude, I am stunned by the high school writing techniques displayed by someone who is, allegedly, an educated individual.

An attorney? He presented himself as a thug.

It has been my experience that anyone who so vehemently denies any wrong doing is normally quite guilty.

Forgive my ignorance on the history of Transfiguration Church but I can ascertain from the photographs that the building has been unoccupied for probably thirty-years. It is amazing that the stained glass windows have remained in fair condition.

Where does the Diocese stand on this issue or have they buried their heads in the proverbial sand as always?

The City of Buffalo has so much great architecture and so much has been documented but yet the wanton disregard continues.

Anonymous said...

What a photo! It really captures the tragedy of the loss of this magnificant building. Reminds me of similar photos taken in post-WWII European cities ravaged by the war.


fix buffalo said...


I thought so, too. Read some of the related posts for additional background.


Yes. As student in Nürnberg in the early 80's, I watched many buildings come back to life 40 years after their destruction. Pace of re-building was much slower im Osten.

One of my most "favorited" and viewed flickr photos - right here - is another interior shot of same church. I liken it to images I saw in the Balkans, especially Sarajevo in the 90's.

Anonymous said...

i can't stop looking at those pictures. thank you.

Michele J said...

Seeing those pictures really makes you understand what an incredible tragedy it really is..I can still see all the beauty but there is nobody who can save it now..It has been so neglected for so long.We have to make sure this never happens again,I know more churches will close and it is our duty to hold the owners responsible to maintain and preserve these irreplaceable buildings..

fix buffalo said...

anon 9:07,

thanks for stopping by...wish you could have seen the recent show in TO...

Josef said...

The tragedy with the loss of the churches, as with three-quarters of Buffalo's built environment, is partly due to the corrupt politics that have seemed to grip the city since the demise of the German and later demise of the Polish East Side. 90% of the "regretted" losses are in what was the home of the German Americans, who comprised 80% of the population of Buffalo before the anti-German sentiment that sprang up with the onset of WW I and continued unabated until there were no more "German American areas" in U.S. cities to this day.

BUT, that said, the issue of the churches is due to something just as awful as the demonizing of people of Germanic descent during a century of two world wars.

It is Vatican II -- the "people's revolution" in the Roman Catholic Church. That political occurrence in the late 1960s not only caused all Roman Catholics to lose the Magisterium of the Latin Mass, the Gregorian Chant, and all the trappings of the Traditional Roman Catholic Church (imagine, a "reversal" and repudiation of some 2,000 years). With the advent of polka Masses, rock guitar "be-ins" in church, colloquial English, first-name use for everyone, etc., came a very EXPLICIT disdain for the traditional architecture of the Roman Catholic Church.

The fact is that the "New Order," called "Novus Ordo," church by the Traditionalists, PREFERS McChurches and is virtually hostile to the "old" Church's architecture. That is why all these churches in Buffalo and throughout the nation and in many other nations have been sold off or have met demolition.

I do know for a fact that St. Mary of Sorrows, my own church as a child, was scheduled for demolition by the Diocese of Buffalo. The preservationists had to fight a long, hard political battle to make its case to keep the church's shell for historic purposes. It is in fact, as the PresCo site used to describe most aptly, one of the finest samples of Rhenish Romanesque architecture in the United States!

It amazes me as someone who was born in the vibrant, beautiful Humboldt-Masten-Fruit Belt area, that people preserving the magnificant church had to study its artifacts to figure out that its congregation was German! That this was not documented and fully understood shows how thoroughly the Germanic presence was expunged in Buffalo, as the neighborhoods were briskly and fiercely "sanitized" of German identity and ethnically cleansed in the 1950s and 60s.

At any rate, DON'T expect any help or even sympathy from the Novus Ordo Roman Catholic Church. It wants McChurches with asphalt parking lots and has dumbed itself down so as to appeal to some imaginary lowest common denominator.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have been particularly harsh about condemning the Traditional R.C. architecture. How badly this happens varies from country to country, and in the "New" Church is left up to such national and local "councils."

Having spent time attending the Traditionalist Roman Catholic churches that have sprung up against this dumbed down "new church," I learned how viciously the post-Vatican II R.C.Church attacks any attempts for Traditionalists to purchase these abandoned churches. The atmosphere between the "New Church" and the "Post-Vatican II Church" is one of cloak and dagger and extreme anger.

Buffalo will continue to lose population as long as it is not a pleasant place to live. Sitting in a cold, wet, snowy climate as it does, it needs a better-than-average "built environment" to attract or keep people in this day and age when people can pick and choose where they will live.

I commend all who are trying so hard in Buffalo, but I am constantly dismayed to read about and find out about the depth of corruption that pervades the city government. That the city is impoverished doesn't help, and the impoverishment happened as the Germans were driven, via blockbusting and innumerable "schemes of arbitrage," out of their homes and replaced by African-American migrants sent up to Buffalo by a Deep South that didn't want them, only to languish in poverty and welfare-dependent existence for decades.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Roman Catholic churches is that the eventual "spin-off" of Vatican II in the RC Church (what Traditionists, who are few but growing, call the "novus ordo church) is that it has extreme disdain for the traditional architecture and majesty of its original churches. The U.S. Council of Bishops leads dioceses in condemning and abandoning/destroying the traditional churches. It is an outrage. The National Trust for Historic Preservation will not document churches as "religious" and will not support preserving "religious" institutions. So it's a very terrible situation.

Charles said...

Great photos, David. Thanks for sharing. I'm intrigued by Transfiguration and was glad to finally see what it looks like inside. I was surprised that the stained glass windows are rather plain compared to the neighboring Polish churches, which have exquisite windows showing favorite saints, Biblical passages, etc. Trans' appear to be just geometric designs. Surprised they weren't replaced with something more spectacular in the area's heyday.

Did you happen to notice what colors were used in the designs on the arches (hard to tell in the photos)? Any idea how they had been painted - do you think they were stencilled? I quite like the designs and know of another church that is considering dressing up similar arches so might share these photos.

My friend helped paint Transfiguration back around 1980 or so - the last time they replaced the roof - at the time the parish could only afford to replace half the roof, which explains why the other side (west I think) has deteriorated much more quickly.

LopiX said...

Was just there on the weekend, what an amazing site! Posted pix at http://www.lopix.com/photos/thumbnails.php?album=71 if you want to have a peak.

I can't believe there are so many buildings like this in Buffalo, what is going to happen to them? Are any of them going to come back to life?

Claire Felong said...

Seeing the inside photo of Transfiguration made me gasp - my great grandfather helped build the altar and pews and a great uncle was a glazier creating some of the stained glass along with many other German and Polish immigrants who formed the church.

I need to respond to this comment, though:
"The fact is that the "New Order," called "Novus Ordo," church by the Traditionalists, PREFERS McChurches and is virtually hostile to the "old" Church's architecture. ."

As a practicing Catholic who takes the words of Jesus to heart, the Church is also responding to Jesus when it choses to use its quickly dwindly funds to build and support the community of people rather than buildings. If the churches are valued as artwork, they must be supported by those who value them as artwork.

I love to attend the churches in Buffalo & Erie and gaze in awe at the architecture but here in California I belong to a parish community that fills my soul even though the building is a McChurch.

Jesus was poor in material things and asked his followers to do the same. Attendance and contributions are down. Diocese and religious orders have been selling off their properties for well over 30 years so that they can provide education, social services and God's word to all.

lizaanne said...

My great grandparents were married in Transfiguration Church. I just now went looking for photos of this Church after learning where they married last week. This breaks my heart to no end to see it in this condition.

Living in Detroit I know all too well what causes this - city decay, and a local Archdiocese that has deep disdain for anything Traditional. So very sad.