14 Years Later...

Read this past week in the Buffalo News that William Trezevant has completed nearly 75% of the work on the exterior of recently renamed Transfiguration Church. So went out yesterday to take a closer look at the new Sounds of Joy building.

Roofing and window repairs on the former Transfiguration Catholic Church are about 75 percent complete, and efforts are under way to obtain government funding for interior renovations, the principals of the effort said Wednesday.

Court proceedings involving the 19th century structure were delayed again Wednesday.

Paula Nowak, a retired special investigator for the federal Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C., and her son, Buffalo attorney William F. Trezevant, said the repair work is expected to be completed by the end of this month. read the rest...


I've archived various posts and information about this place - Transfiguration Archive - and will be keeping an even closer eye on the work and latest court date.

14 years is a long time...
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Anonymous said...

Just ridiculous.

If they would have kept the roof patched the interior would be the total loss that is currently is.

As much as I want to see this building survive, I feel any grants/handouts/donations will only go to justify the neglect at the hands of the current owners.

And I also don;t understand how people buy these and then claim to want to put in a community center. How do community centers work for private owners?

I also like how the plans moving forward depend on the neighborhood turning around. Be sure not to hold your breath.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ, but, rolled-roofing material and particle-board covering over destroyed stained glass panels is not repair but a sorry excuse. It is not my intention to be the typical Buffalo naysayer but this building should have either been adaptively reused fourteen-years ago by the new owner or harvested of its architectural details and demolished as the Diocese had originally intended.

Instead, we have a 19th Century building languishing in a neighborhood that could care less about their surroundings and certainly have no respect for the buildings history or what it’s originally purpose served to the community.

Worst case scenario and, as like St Mathews, this should have been “mothballed” for future renovation since this type of building is ideal as an anchor to the neighborhood; especially on the East Side where entire neighborhoods are beginning to implode from urban decay.

Anonymous said...

glad its still standing. the shell is worth it alone, definately a shame what happened to it. its nice to have something to remind us of how nice Sycamore once was. In my opinion Sycamore is the most negatively affected major street in Buffalo. A life long East Side resident filled me in on the prosperity of the street as recently as the 70's as we drove down the Sycamore. Apparently the street had countless storefronts filled with bakerys and restaurants. hard to imagine now.

Br. Kemic said...

Can't believe anyone is taking this owner seriously. Is anyone at City Hall reviewing the building permit application for proper materials and methods? And, how long has the Buffalo News bought into the gibberish that Matt Gryta wrote? The article should be entitled "Proposed Sounds of Joy overcome by Anguish of Continued Neglect"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting photos of this "repair." It looks like the architectural equivalent of a band-aid. Perhaps they just want them to get it done at this point. Let's take a trip down memory lane to 1999 when caulk caused delay...

(Note: Interestingly, this article is kind to Trezevant but spells his name incorrectly.)

Buffalo News (New York)


BYLINE: Donn Esmonde
March 18, 1999, Thursday, CITY EDITION

SAVE ONE LANDMARK church, kill another.

It's all in a day's work at City Hall.

The city just said it will buy Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church, a downtown landmark. The move brings a happy end to four years of struggle to save the 1871 building from the bulldozers. Mayor Masiello gets a thumbs up for stepping in when all else failed.

On the other side of town Wednesday, Bill Tresevant stopped by Transfiguration Catholic Church. It's one of many East Side churches that long ago lost its congregation, but -- with its towering steeple and stained glass windows -- retains its majesty.

Tresevant bought the church from the Catholic Diocese five years ago, saving it from the wreckers. He wants to turn it into a Montessori School and a community center. He cares about old buildings and he's a descendant of one of the church's founders. There's $ 50,000 in hand for repairs, via Councilman Dave Franczyk, with the possibility of another $ 50,000 coming.

Too bad Tresevant can't touch the money.

This was the third winter the church has sat, windows boarded or broken, gutters leaking and tiles falling off the roof. Birds fly in and out. Neighbors endure the sight of another decaying building instead of rejoicing over a symbol of resurrection.

Church after glorious church has been reduced to dust and memories on the East Side. Nobody is lining up to save the ones that are left. The predominant growth industry on Sycamore Street is plywood enclosures. Most people won't drive through this neighborhood, much less invest a dime in it.

When a Bill Tresevant comes along, this city should shake his hand, roll out a red carpet and hire a driver to take him on his appointed rounds. It should, to quote the city planning department's letterhead, be "Creating Neighborhood Opportunities," not obstructing anybody concerned or crazy enough to still give a damn.

But that's what, for the past three years, the city has done to Bill Tresevant.

The problem -- or, at least, the specific problem -- is caulk.

The real problem is the city Planning Department, which is a slowly grinding wheel, a bureaucratic Stop Do Not Pass Go.

This Planning Department says protective plexiglass windows -- the window protecting the stained glass -- can't be secured with basic, store-bought silicone caulk. It's telling Bill Tresevant he's got to use a special, expensive putty of boiled linseed oil, plaster of Paris and turpentine -- just like they did 100 years ago.

If he doesn't use it, it doesn't -- by their interpretation -- meet federal preservation guidelines, and that means Bill Tresevant can't use the 50,000 federal dollars he's got.

"The city is interpreting the regulations the wrong way," said Tresevant, a middle-aged lawyer with an engaging grin and a fierce will. "I never anticipated these problems."

It's not like he wants to nail a neon sign over the front oak door and stick plastic pink flamingos in the yard. Nobody's going to know the difference what kind of caulk he uses. This is a grand but rotting East Side church, not the Sistine Chapel.

Similar nitpicking nonsense applies to the gutters, downspouts and brickwork.

That's why Tresevant can't get the money to fix his church. That's why the neighborhood doesn't have its school and community center.

It's why bureaucracy marches on -- untouched by logic, bludgeoning common sense and grinding dreams into the ground.

Somewhere in this bureaucratic wheel is undoubtedly a cog who feels he's standing on principle. Someone who's willing to protect the divine right of linseed-oil putty until the moment the bulldozers knock the building down.

We're familiar with the thinking: Too bad the church got demolished -- but at least they didn't use that damn silicone caulk.

Paul Frohe has spent a lifetime fixing stained glass windows in churches.

"We've been using standard glazing compound for 40 years," said Frohe, of Frohe Art Glass. "Mixing putty out of linseed oil, that's ridiculous."

The building is rotting, pigeon droppings are mounting and another Buffalo winter has taken its toll -- and these people are still arguing over caulk.

Where's Nero when you need him?

A call to the mayor elicited a return call from Joe Ryan, the city's Community Development commissioner. Ryan said the department would "try to find a way to work with (Tresevant)."

It's about time.

There's the usual list of obscure rules when you use federal dollars for preservation. From what I've seen, it'd be easy enough to get around them with this church; to cut corners nobody would notice to save a building that can be seen for a mile.

Meanwhile, Bill Tresevant is back in court Monday. He's in city Housing Court because his church needs repairs, which he can't do because the city Planning Department is holding up his money.

We pity poor Mr. Tresevant. For three years, he's been stuck in the mire of City Hall.

That'll teach him to try to do some good.

Polka Dot said...

A lawyer of Trezevant's stature takes three years to not do work because of a putty dispute? Just ridiculous, to quote mj. Beyond ridicule though is the dereliction of a landmark by a member of the bar.

Anonymous said...

So he couldn't touch grant money because of a dispute in preservation standards....

Does this mean he should not have gone along with his own money and did(temporary)repairs to at least enclose the structure from further damage? To at least protect any investment he did have? Or say ok, I'll use the stupid caulk to at least get the sealing of the building moving along but making a note that it is a waste of the funds (public money)?

I don't recall what he paid for the structure. Something like $7k, no? Had to know it was a stuggling neighborhood, had to know at that price the building was obviously a tough save, and should have known the requirements for any grant money if they were part of his purchase decision.

Building like this will NEVER be built again. We need a system, at minimum, which will mothball those closing now as economically as possible.

Or we could always count on parishoners to drive down and worship with the poor and needy that their religions claim to place the greatest value on instead of building new or expanding suburban churches...but I guess that would be even more rediculus =)

b said...

Why again should money even be spent on indefinite mothballing when there are so many more urgent needs in a fast shrinking impoverished city?

To soothe our egos in the delusion that "some day" some project will make sense for this or similar buildings?

Nothing lasts forever. Dust to dust. We should accept that and keep churches only when they make sense for practical realistic near-term re-uses. Others we should let die with dignity, salvage what can be salvaged, and move on. The Diocese was willing to demolish this at their expense but was arm twisted by politicians and activists into selling it to Tresevant.

Even if this is ever converted to a community center it will cost much more in ongoing maintenance, utilities, etc., than some other more practical building in which the same center could be housed. That clearly won't be a smart of compassionate use of scarce non-profit resources.

Yes it was beautiful and irreplaceable, but it's also an inanimate object. The city should apologize to the Diocese for its role in blocking the demolition originally and ask if the offer still stands.

Anonymous said...

"b" quitters never win. lose the defeatist attitude, it wont get you anywhere. I don't think this should be a matter of allocation of scare resources. There should be the resources available in Buffalo to preserve our history as citizens of the queen city period. Any money spent to stabilize this building is money well spent.

b said...

anon 12:26,
The "shrinking smartly" approach is now considered quitting and defeatist?

From this: "... We have to get smarter at handling decline, fast. I've mentioned the highly effective emergency medical strategy of triage numerous times while thinking and writing about vacancy... We can't save everything. ...Bottom line - that was echoed today - it's very easy to deny that abandonment and vacancy is happening. Dealing with these issues on an individual basis is hard, on a collective basis, perhaps impossible. Yet if we don't get smarter - like cutting our losses and begin land-banking - who will? It'll be more difficult next month and next year.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, you cant save everything. I think "shrinking smartly" refers more to the housing stock of Buffalo. Our decaying neighborhoods can not be saved without a major population shift. The church however has incredible significance to its surrounding neighborhood. If the church were gone the neighborhood would lose much of its identity. Keep in mind how much effort and sacrifice was put into its construction and how much pride the former community had in this edifice.

b said...

Anon 6:57 - Although housing is the most prevalent type of building in Buffalo or any city, and most affected by shrinkage ("smart" or otherwise), it isn't the only type. As Buffalo went from 580,000 down to current 270,000 or so, it's unavoidably lost need for many buildings including many elementary schools, high schools, police stations, fire stations, stores, hospitals, and so on. Some of these were of design and condition allowing conversion to other uses but many others didn't - some gone, some still standing and being blight.

Churches are another of these categories, and generally since in many cases designed for beauty and magnificence the challenge of practical re-use is difficult and expensive. Obviously some successes such as DiFranco's and some others, but much more the exception than the rule.

Seems to me same kind of "spend and do whatever it takes to save" vs. "strategically move on for the greater good" question can apply to all types of vacant buildings, ranging from beautiful houses to beautiful churches to all other types. No matter how beautiful a building once was, it can become a big negative fast and start doing harm.

Because of emotions people have for churches, for understandable reasons as you point out about past sacrifice and history, it makes decisions hard. But tradeoffs and practicalities are same. The city is poor and shrinking, there's no signs of population turnaround on the horizon, and resorces are very tight across the board - governmental, non-profit, and private. If there's some very practical re-use in mind for a particular building, then sure it's worth a try for a few years to see what happens - but even that's very difficult because of break ins. Somebody would need to check on it often and keep re-boarding it up. Is that good smart use of long term efforts in those neighborhoods, even when volunteers can be found? And long term mothballing would be even harder and more expensive.

For huge churches, some vague hope of re-use some day as a community center just doesn't sound economically sensible, and seems contrary to the approach of trying to shrink more smartly. Maybe just leaving a small part of churches in these situations makes sense, demolishing but leaving part as a monument.

This whole thing will be a huge problem for upcoming abandoned churches and politicians pushing the Diocese to find re-use, but is that likely to be more successful than Transfiguration? Maybe for a few it will. But at what cost will it be for most others if demolition is stubbornly ruled out and decaying blight takes over decade after decade while pretending some use is around the corner and blaming whoever takes ownership? Where is the greater good?

Ed Hed said...

How about a stabilization of the shell and removal of the roof, at diocesan/trezevant cost. Ruins have their place too, and mark an evolution of a civilization as one landmark created by a past generation that has no practical present use.

Anonymous said...

i think ed hed has a point. it's not unreasonable to think that such shells could be turned back into usable structure years from now if the need arises. embracing the reality of decline in a graceful way with Romantic ruins is better than bulldozing the glory of the past. i think this should be an option of last resort, however - there may yet be a viable uses for these churches, especially those that are being deaccessioned now and aren't in such dire condition.

b said...

Ed Hed's suggested "ruins" approach sounds like a smart compromise between economic reality and emotional/historical considerations. David suggested something similar a while back. Still some issue with long term funding to maintain a ruins site, but that would much less of a problem than trying to keep the buildings standing, secure, and safe. It would sound reasonable for the Diocese to fund conversion to and long term maintenance of ruins sites.

This would be very much better than delusionally hoping a "community center" type re-use will ever be a feasible and smart use of resources. If the communtities require more centers, much more efficient buildings are available. Several community centers have recently shut down due to financial realities. Centers need to be run as smartly as possible too.

Anon 3:56, isn't it long past "last restort" time? What serious reason is there to expect the next decade will be more positive for this building than the past decade? All signs point toward more of the same, for Transfiguration and many others. Hope is not a plan. The ruins approach should be used for many churches that would otherwise sit vacant, decaying, and dangerous with no proposed serious plan.

Anonymous said...

b you should write a book call it "long winded explanations for destroying buffalo's history"

b said...

3:56, and your approach could be defined on two fortune cookie slips:

"Hope is a plan."

"Buildings are more important than people."

I do admire the brevity. :-)

Anonymous said...

Some news on the Transfiguration front!

Dispute over church could end by spring

Published on December 13, 2007
Author: Matt Gryta - NEWS STAFF REPORTER
© The Buffalo News Inc.
City Judge E. Jeannette Ogden on Wednesday said the resolution to the 14-year-old Housing Court dispute involving the former Transfiguration Catholic Church may come next spring, with the completion of exterior renovation work on the Sycamore Street landmark.
Ogden, who was assured that there are no immediate public safety concerns at the church, directed Buffalo attorney William F. Trezevant and Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel David Rodriguez to return to court Dec. 21 for a status report on Trezevant's 7-year-old plan to begin stabilization work on the landmark's majestic steeple -- a project on hold until the spring, at the earliest. City Building Inspector Tracy Krug noted that Trezevant and his nonprofit Francis Associates have completed restoration of the church roof and that nine of the church's 45 boarded-up windows still need their trim painted, which will have to await the arrival of warmer weather.
Trezevant, acknowledging that he is still frustrated at the seven years it took him to get the city to issue work permits so the repairs, estimated that about 95 percent of all the outside work on the church is completed.
Praising Rodriguez for forcing City Hall to issue the work permits, Trezevant noted that "silent donors" he declined to identify have contributed $70,000 to the effort.
Ogden said she is pleased that the old church "is not an immediate hazard to the community" but warned Trezevant that he and his organization could face court sanctions if there is no further progress by Dec. 21.
Trezevant said stabilization work planned soon on the steeple will involve removing less than a dozen insecure slate shingles and installing protective material to prevent ice and water damage until permanent repairs can be made in the spring.
Fourteen years ago, Trezevant and his mother, Paula Nowak, a retired special investigator for the federal Government Accountability Office, purchased the church in the 900 block of Sycamore from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for $7,000.
However, Housing Court disputes have stymied renovations, with Paula Nowak having been threatened with arrest warrants for failing to appear in Housing Court sessions. On Oct. 10, Ogden quashed the arrest warrants.
Trezevant and Nowak hope to convert the 19th century landmark into a community center.
Because of declining parish enrollment, the diocese shuttered the church in 1993.

ray gunn said...

It is good to see that there is some progress being made, and that the owner is engaged and responsive to the City.

However, it should be made clear that the roof is patched, not restored with the original slate roofing. Also, there are many slates (not just 12 as the article states) as well as metal coping that need to be replaced on the towers, as can be seen in the pictures.

What is the community that the planned community center would serve? At last count there are at least three within a quarter mile already.