Transfiguration - Death Watch!

In case you missed the Buffalo News this week...

The owners of Transfiguration Church, a vacant and deteriorating East Side landmark, are under pressure from city officials to better secure the sprawling property.

The Eastern European Gothic- style church at Sycamore and Mills streets, which opened in 1896, is one of only four remaining in Buffalo built before 1900. It was abandoned 14 years ago by the Catholic Diocese and purchased in 1994 for $7,000 by Paul Francis Associates, a nonprofit organization operated by Buffalo attorney William Trezevant and his mother, Paula Nowak...read the rest...

Transfiguration Church - Interior
3 transfiguration hdr
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.
I've sat down with Bill Trezevant twice in the past few weeks. On both occasions the conversation was tense. Bill seems to be subscribing to the falacious notion that hope is still a plan. Perhaps he's just looking for the easy way out and would rather see the City demolish the church and have Paul Francis Associates Inc. billed for the major six figure demolition expense. Presumably the corporation will go belly-up and Bill Trezevant and his mother Pauline Nowak - there's still an active Housing Court warrant for her arrest - will most probably skate.

Bill has systematically stonewalled and steadfastly refuses to answer questions regarding the church, his plans and possible scenerios that could save some of the art and architectural detail that remains here, in his care. He plays the victim card and at one point while sitting down with a Preservation Board member and myself Bill refused to take responsibility for properly securing the structure. He claimed it was a matter for the corporation to consider.

Also heard from a reliable source that Bill Trezevant's mother walked into Housing Court recently and walked out again, despite the active warrant for her arrest.


Headed over to Sycamore and Mills, just East of Fillmore to see if he's done anything to secure the church structure since the Buffalo News article appeared more than 48 hours ago.
ArtspaceBAVPATour d'Neglect - 2007Woodlawn Row Housesfaqmy flickr
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b said...

"...Perhaps he's just looking for the easy way out and would rather see the City demolish the church and have Paul Francis Associates Inc. billed for major six figure demolition expense. ..."

If he's an officer of PFA, why would he want PFA billed for the six figure expense? Did you mean to write that a little differently? Or does he really want to spend six figures of PFA money to demolish and move on?

Your suggestion in the article to leave the building's shell intact sounds like a "hope based" kind of plan as well, doesn't it?

Michelle J's comment in the article in favor of demolition sounds sensible.

If at all legally possible, the Catholic Diocese should be billed for vast share of demolishing/deconstructing that building. Maybe they pay 80% and PFA 20%. Ideally the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay anything, but if having some tax money is needed to make deconstruction happen then ok so be it. Better in so many ways than leaving the building standing.

Likewise for St. Matthews, etc. - if possible the Diocese should have to pay to demolish/deconstruct. No serious re-use will happen. Hope is not a plan. They should ensure these kinds of buildings die a dignified "death".

Beautiful as they are, or were, and interesting as their history may be - these are buildings, material possessions - not flesh and blood. Nothing in this world is intended to last forever and now realistically leaving it standing is doing much more harm than good.

They (or their "shells") should not be left standing as dangerous rotting eyesores needing costly upkeep and re-boarding, re-re-boarding, etc. because anyone may have some bizarre unrealistic hope that they'll be seriously re-used within any reasonable period of time in this emptying city.

Wouldn't leaving the shell standing there just be another piece of blight, or am I missing something?

fix buffalo said...


I believe the only assets the corporation has - PFA - is the church itself. That said...if the City does an emergency demolition which is most likely as numerous people on the City side are telling me so...PFA will be billed and having no assets the game here is to bankrupt the corporation and skate.

The idea behind the shell is two-fold. First, it costs less. Two, it respects heritage of the site.

This "sacred ruin" model is viable elsewhere, why not here?

Why should the diocese now pay?

What lessons are we learning from Transfiguration and St. Matthew's that should now be applied to the pending round of Diocesan deaccession?

Michele J said...

I stand by my comment that IMO transfiguration can not be saved... And the demolition should not be paid for by the city..The corporation heads should take out 2nd mortgages on their homes and make payment arrangements if that doesnt cover it!However I feel that St Matthews can be saved...But who will save it? Ive said it before and I will say it again its all about location...If it was on elmwood would we be having this conversation?

MJ said...

Once these buildings are gone...they are gone for good. And look at any new builds today, they are not going to be building anything of this quality again.

If this church was properly secured and most importantly, the roof maintained, it would last last "forever", or until a reuse. Possibilites of these are much more valuable than an empty lot with 3ft tall grass.

This isn't a crappy upper/lower flat. Its a major structure. Something that could anchor renewal in the future and give a neighborhood an identity besides some crappy sign saying "Deer Creek" etc.

But, yes, it is most likely too late for this church. But it should stand as the prime example of how not to handle the deassesion. From the diocese right down to the housing court.

And maybe if everyone on the east side did not feel the need to be their own pastor and have their own church, we could have a few, strong, congregations (of what ever religion) supporting these wonderful buildings and anchoring neighborhoods.

Shells have been done. Locally see Lockport:
a shell with no immediate use, but retains possibilities, such as:

One has the benefit of being directly in a down town. The other is just outside it. But for one example, imagine a shell like these turned into an urban park anchoring one of the new build developments.

The easiest thing to do in life to destroy something. Doesn't require much creativity or dedication. It is the safe thing to do, one can not fail at it. We may not have the answers now, but by properly securing these from the start, and maintaining the roofs, we have the possibility in the future that somebody will.

Also look at the central terminal and the turn around that has happened there. We should not be chained to history, but it should be cared for and celebrated. It makes who we are on a personal, and societal level. We should be proud of it. We should do our best to add to it. Throwing it away should be a FINAL resort.

Michele J said...

I agree that when these beautiful buildings become vacant they should be mothballed ( winterized & stabilized) and if it happens to be a Catholic Church than the responsibility should be the diocese...Transfiguration to me will sadly always be the "example"
It was sold off in pieces to several organizations that have managed to maintain the other buildings thankfully but just as the church on Broadway & Fox which I believe was torn down at taxpayers expense Transfiguration is now to the point of no return..

We know these churches can have another life and I sincerely hope St Matthews will just as St Lukes and Ani DiFrancos do but...As I said before its all about location.

b said...

MJ:... it is most likely too late for this church. But it should stand as the prime example of how not to handle the deassesion. From the diocese right down to the housing court. ...And maybe if everyone on the east side did not feel the need to be their own pastor and have their own church, we could have a few, strong, congregations (of what ever religion) supporting these wonderful buildings ....

MJ, that's among the worst attitudes I've heard in a long time. Basically you're saying to hell with ES residents and let them suffer with abandoned eyesore firetrap blight standing forever because you want a prime example shoved in their face over something they did not cause, and you say they at least somewhat deserve it anyhow because they did not join a large church in the name of preserving a building some people built 100 years ago that you, the one who knows what's best for them, have decreed should anchor that neighborhood forever even if it deteriorates into a hideous dangerous anchor. Nice.

The relative value you place on buildings vs. ES residents is very screwed up. Buildings are intended to serve people - not the other way around. You make it sound like ES people who choose belong to small churches deserve to be punished. Yes, in an ideal world that building would be used and stand another hundred years. Guess what, we're in the real world not an ideal one, and your view totally sucks that ES residents somewhat deserve to suffer because they didn't go to the right size of church according to you.

b said...

David, I see what you mean about PFA.

Although this could never be forced legally, the reason I think the Diocese should pay to demolish/deconstruct both of these former churches, and others, is simply that it's the ethical thing to do - especially given that Buffalo is in the midst of such a steep decline in population and relative economic condition with no end in sight. As you have well documented previously, the downward trends are firmly in place and don't even show any signs of slowing, let alone turnaround or even leveling off.

When the Diocese builds a church, whether it's now or a hundred years ago, right then they're well aware of these two realities: (1.) there will come a day at which point they no longer will use the building, and (2.) due to the size and style of big churches they do not usually make financial sense to be reused for some secular purpose. Of course there's exceptions to (2.), but these exceptions are very rare and even when they do occur somehow it's not always a good use of money. (i.e., Would it be worth it in the greater good to convert St. Matthews to a community center at ten or twenty times the cost of re-using a smaller more modern building for a community center? Not to mention the more expensive upkeep a former church would require, and much higher heating costs, all that. Money doesn't grow on trees.)

So instead of washing their hands of these by selling them to entities like PFA and the first group who flipped (maliciously or not doesn't matter) St. Matts and leaving the neighborhoods to face problems now occurring, I think the Diocese when it decides to close a church should pull the plug right then and demolish/deconstruct, shed a tear, and move on - knowing that even though a vacant lot is bad in some ways at least they are not leaving behind blight and danger within a residential neighborhood and they're not burdening a poor city with the demo cost.

Hey, I don't have a crystal ball either so who knows, maybe those two church buildings really can be saved and re-used like happened with the DiFranco project, but that's like expecting lightening to strike.

Irresponsible, IMO, to treat that at this point as even remotely realistic. And if in five or ten years if lightening strikes and someone comes along with a big wad of cash to use on an ES rehab project like that, no doubt Buffalo will still have plenty of big once-pretty abandoned buildings begging to be saved. As far as the eye can see, Buffalo and the ES will be like the SPCA of buildings - always plenty of adoptees in waiting.

neighborhood resident said...

What is the cost of securing the building, removing the roof, establishing an endowment for maintenance and repair, and continuing a use as an urban park/ruin?? Surely it is far less than demolition, landfill and a market-less vacant lot.

This could be a premier project for Buffalo Re-Use to selectively demolish, recycle and re-use as much as possible both in actual building materials and facility usage.

It is time for the owner and City to step up and get some engineering, demolition and re-use plans going. Other than that they may be negligent and responsible for anything that happens there.

Mr. Trezevant and Ms. Nowak, please take care of the buildings for our City and our people. You got a bargain for the purchase of $7000, accepted $50,000 in federal/state funds to begin rehab and all there is to show for it is a fence, a stripped out dangerous firetrap of a building with holes in the roof and a lousy shainlink fence. Even Scott Wizig re-invested more in his properties than you and your company has. NOW IS THE TIME TO REDEEM YOURSELF!!!! HELP SET YOURSELF FREE!!!

fix buffalo said...


thanks for the critical reflection...am inclined to agree with various points including holding the Bishop/diocese responsible.

Seems as though we never learn from earlier mistakes, until it's too late.

Neighborhood Resident...

thanks for the veiled reminder of Bill Trezevant's attempt to capture the Ellicott District council seat a few years ago. His campaign signs, with the motto - Let my People Go... - should probably be seen as an attempt by Bill to position himself as some sort of martyred crusader. Laughable as his only campaign contributions came from biz and lawyers in the downtown portion of Ellicott District and nothing, not a penny, from residents in the neighborhoods...