2/28/2006

Journey to Avoid Housing Court...Part 3

Front page of today's Buffalo News Trying to More with Less. Based on the church flipping scandal of the 90's when the Buffalo Diocese closed the first round of churches and left many neighborhoods with rotting gothic hulks of brick and stone, why shouldn't we be expecting more of the same. I mean, is hope really a plan?

Frequent readers of this blog have been following the story here in, Annals of Neglect, which is an attempt to document the various problems neighborhoods are facing as a result of the church closings. Catholic complexes used to dot the City's East side, now many of them sit abandonded, boarded, derelict and mostly vacant.

Yesterday, a frequent reader of my blog and Chicago based architect David Steele wrote A Peek at Heaven and Possible Hell over at Buffalo Rising.
79 Oakland Place
79 Oakland Place
Meanwhile the Bishop has no plans to sell the property at 79 Oakland. And yes there is still an outstanding housing court warrant out for Pauline Nowak, the mother of local attorney William Trezevant the presumptive owner of the former Transfiguration Church.
Transfiguration Church - Interior
Transfiguration Church, 2004

From today's Buffalo News.

Diane Dryja, a member of St. Gerard parishfor decades, doesn't want to see a repeat of Transfiguration Church,which the diocese closed in 1993 and sold. The church sits at the corner of Sycamore and Mills streets, idle and crumbling. "To see it standing there the way it is now, is heartbreaking," Dryjasaid. "That reflects on us being Catholics, Christians. We want to makesure the neighborhood doesn't deteriorate because of one of ourbuildings."

And so it goes...
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Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faq

9 comments:

John B. said...

Um, look, let's see:

a) the overwhelmingly Polish citizens abandon the Eastside.

b) they overwhelmingly abandon their their filial duties to, etc, etc, to their ancestral churches.

c) as such, the diocess is blamed for the decline of said church buildings.

d) question: rather than blaming the Bishop, etc, why don't you use this forum to get these former Polish residents of the Central City, now esconced in their suburban paradises , to contribute financially towards the upkeep of their old hoods.

e) you can blame the man left holding the bag, when those who abandoned the bag long ago gave up the ship long ago.

f) or, if you have answer to either 1) how to fill those pews with people who can financilly support the church buildings, and 2) have you started a seminary to provide extra priests?

If you want to be part of the solution to the present problems on the Eastside, or in the city as a whole, then start offering REAL ansewers, not just playing the blame-game.

fix buffalo said...

John,

Blame? I prefer to think of it as an abdication of responsible ownership. Here the Buffalo Diocese fails to properly maintain their buildings, closes them and in the past sells them to un-qualified buyers.

Transfiguration and the Orphan Home on Dodge St along with Sacred Heart on Emslie street come to mind. The Immaculate Conception, on Elmwood Ave is now closed and the Bishop sited the fact recently that it was structurally unsound and in need of 800K of rehab. Hmmm...no inspection, no housing court for the Bishop...

I was raised in the 'burbs and now live on the City's east side. Here, my task is to raise awareness of various issues surrounding the systemic abandonment and neglect of the City's east side. I routinely profile positive investment opportunities and often lead neighborhood investment tours.

As far as your question regarding starting a seminary...hmmm..I'm sure some lay people would be interested when the issues surrounding the Bishop's CASTLE on OAKLAND are resolved and he leads a life by example. Perhaps moving into an abandoned East Side rectory and by example attracting suburban catholics to the 'hood would be a good start.

David

Ed said...

I have to comment on the remarks pertaining to Polish abandonment of the East Side. A couple facts regarding Transfiguration Church on Sycamore Street in particular:

1) in the late 1960s it was a thriving parish with 1800 families

2) in 1966 the school had 465 students; it closed in 1985 when enrollment had dwindled to 89 students

3) when the parish closed in 1993 they had already been using a renovated space in one of the other buildings for a couple years since the church itself was already falling apart; the deterioration of the building started long before it was sold by the diocese (an area resident told me that later priests just sort of “let the place go”)

So yes, I can’t argue with the fact that there are at least hundreds and probably thousands of former parishioners and school graduates of Transfiguration who still reside in WNY (probably in the burbs) who did indeed abandon the church long before it was closed (at which time only a few dozen still attended the church).

However, to blame Polish abandonment of the East Side for its decline is far from the truth. Polish neighborhoods deteriorated long AFTER adjacent ethnic (especially German) and non-ethnic neighborhoods. White flight spread from the Fruit Belt northeast through the city, plowing through East Ferry, East Delevan, Grider, Kensington Avenue, etc. – and scores of German churches there (St. Mary’s on Broadway, St. Mary of Sorrows, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Matthew’s, St. Frances de Sales, etc., etc.) have closed in the last few decades. Now the churches between Bailey Ave. and the City Line (my neighborhood) are threatened with mounting debts and dwindling membership as the flight continues. Meanwhile, several Polish churches in the Broadway-Fillmore remain open and debt-free because enough people DO trek in from the ‘burbs to keep them going. And the abandonment of the Polish neighborhoods going out Broadway from Fillmore to the City Line, a relatively short distance, was much more gradual. Many Polish residents actually still remain on Buffalo’s East Side, around Broadway-Bailey, Kaisertown, and other areas.

fix buffalo said...

Ed,

Thanks for the recent historical perspective especially your points 1-3.

I imagine you've already seen Mary Kunz Goldman's piece in yesterday's BN. I've linked to it in a recent post "Pew News"...hard hitting.

I wonder how many suburban and rural Polish and German folks would return to the City if the Bishop encouraged the adoption program the Mary outlines.

I think I'm the only ethnically German "settler" in Cold Springs in the last 10 years.

If you know of any recent histories or studies of Polish and German late 20th C migration from central city areas to the burbs, please let me know.

Thanks for visiting as often as you do.

Best,

David

Ed said...

David -

I think I spotted a book at the Buffalo Library recently that might deal with the decline of Catholic Buffalo - or something to that effect - which I assume deal with the East Side. I was pressed for time but will take a look at it next time I'm there and report back. I was looking among the church history books to see if there were any with photos of Transfiguration in its heyday - I was in the church once (1991 or so?) and don't really recall what it looked like inside. I don't think it was quite as spectacular as some of the other Polish churches but seems to me it was still quite attractive.

Your blog is great - as was Mary Kunz's article. I'm a resident of the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood and am anxious looking forward to the Tour de Neglect this summer.

Marc said...

I think Transfiguration is a building worth preserving. Even if it only means repairing the roof and general exterior. The interior can wait perhaps, until we someday find a use. Buildings don't necessarilly have to have a use to be maintained.

In my opinion, I have a problem when buildings are allowed to be stripped. Take a look some day at Our Lady of Lourdes on Main Street. The entire inside has been gutted out and it recently sold for about $65,000.00. Even all the stained glass was removed. This to me seems to violate the housing code laws.

Around 1994, Bishop Head had contracted to tear down Transfiguration. The Buffalo Common Council fought to declare it a landmark. The diocese already had the permit, so the common council's designation had little bearing. Bishop Head under vast pressure agreed to stop the demolition, if a buyer could come forward. The church building was then sold at a mere $7,000.00.

When Saint Monica's on Orlando Street closed. Bishop Mansell had all the structures torn down. Saint Bartholomew, Saint Joachim, Saint Luke's, St. Mary of Sorrows and Saint Mary Magdalene all found good re-uses. Many other closed churches were torn down by the diocese.

It seems that the german orphan asylum is really a property that seems to have been let go. That situation is qustionable to say the least. For the most part, the catholic parishes seem to really do a nice job at maintaining their buildings. In all fairness, that must be said.

Immaculate Conception is being sold for $300,000.00 to an investor who plans to develop the complex into apartments. I wouldn't really regard this as "flipping."

The rectory at Transfiguration was sold to a responsible owner who has invested a great deal of dollars to improve the building. I'm not sure what is meant by a "qualified" buyer. Legally, if a person can pay the price he qualifies. There are limitations beyond that measure.

I do agree that properties should be kept up, but I don't know that selling "77" Oakland Pl. would be the answer. It would probably be a poor fiscal move and I would not do it myself. We could ask the city to sell City Hall to take care of it's properties or the federal government to sell the White House to take care of the Hud properties that they own and flip, but I do see the point you are trying to make. Your point is certainly well taken.

We must have a plan for these properties, regardless who owns them. They are a part of a larger city that goes beyond ownership. Perhaps, we all must take some responsibility as they were built to serve us. We as a people of this city must get more involved, instead of expecting everyone elso to worry about things.

Nice job on the site. I think a lot of good comes from the things you point out.

Marc said...

I had the opportunity to do some research. Sacred Heart Church building was sold in 1974 to the Ukranian Orthodox Church. Saint Francis de Sales building was sold in 1982 to Tabernacle Baptist Church. The Saint Matthew building was sold in 1998 to the Worldwide Bible Deliverance.

It seems selling these churches to other faiths would be a good use. We must put some responsibility on these new owners. It would be like blaming some family that once owned a house on east side now that their old family home is in bad condition. We can't expect the Catholic Diocese to be responsible for what they do not own. These other denominations purchased the properties in good faith with the intent to use them for worship.

Saint Vincent's on Maint Street is absolutely a phenomenal re-use as a cultural theater that has added so much to our city. It would be so nice if we could find such a use for Transfiguration.

Saint Boniface, Saint Brigid, Saint Joseph Old Cathedral, Saint Lucy, Saint Nicholas and Saint Patrick all were responsibly torn down by the Diocese. In all fairness, the Diocese like all of us must have the option of demolishing or selling the property for which they no longer have a use. Often people argue that they don't want the building down and then get upset when it is sold. That's not reasonable.

The Church is here to meet the spiritual needs of our people. They can not keep parishes open they can no longer afford both in manpower and financially. The Church buildings were built for a purpose and from all evidence, some are no longer necessary.

As far as Immaculate Conception, I had the opportunity to get in and see it. I personally would respectfully disagree with the Bishop that it is structurally unsound. To get that building liturgically up to standard, I would agree that it would probably cost more than $800,000.00. As far as meeting typical building code, it would not be that costly.

Liturgically, it is necessary that the worship environment add to the worship experience. In an effort to cut costs, Immaculate Conception did not invest in enhancing the litugical environment and its look has become tired. Just looking at the high costs that St. Stan's has absorbed to enhance its liturgical environment gives one the idea of how costly renovation and restoration of a worship space can add up.

Dingy,let go, retired old Churches don't do much to invigorate ones sense worship. It's depressing. Many dislike newer Churches that more resemble McDonalds. I would agree, I personally like a churchy looking church, however even these more modern Churches have a clean, fresh look.

In close, my only feeling is that truly we must protect our arcitectural gems and we can not allow slum properties to exist. If we want to improve the East Side, we must also concentrate on making people feel safe. People simply do not feel safe and because of that fact tend not to take an interest.

Ed said...

Thanks for sharing your research, Marc. I agree that something should be done to save at least the shell that's left of Transfiguration - it's too spectacular to lose. I found a 1968 jubilee booklet from the church at the library the other day and was mistaken in my earlier posting - it was very beautiful inside, with a large main altar and several side altars.

It was St. Joseph's NEW Cathedral that was torn down. The Old Cathedral once again became THE cathedral and is still in use.

While I'm glad the St. Vincent's building wasn't torn down, the re-used building certainly pales in comparison to its beauty as a church with its canopied altar.

As far as St. Stan's goes, I have to say that I don't see much benefit to the liturgical environment from stripping out rows of pews, moving others so the people in front are no longer facing the altar, and erecting a huge platform taking up a large chunk of the church. That church now has all the ambience of a gymnasium. I've heard that the new setup isn't particularly popular with many of the parishioners. I agree that church interiors shouldn't remain stagnant and Immaculate Conception did indeed look a bit tired, but also not crazy about a lot of the redecorating that has been done in St. Stan's and other churches. St. Anthony's behind City Hall, for example, has a number of statues that once graced the sides of the church now stuffed in a corner in the choir loft because somebody thought they made the church look cluttered - I wonder what the people who sacrificed to finance those statues would think if they knew what became of them?

Incidentally, we can expect an official announcement soon regarding the fate of Holy Name Church on Bailey near Walden - parishioners were recently informed the church's savings will be gone within the next few months and the situation can't wait until the outcome of the diocesan Journey.

fix buffalo said...

Marc,

I appreciate your interest in the subject and willingness to share your information with readers, here.

Much of my critique about the diocesan plans to close has to be seen with in a context of the same diocese building new "McChurchs"...I wonder why this is being done.

As you know on Northampton street, behind the long abandoned German Roman Catholic Orphan Home, is the new diocesan McPoor. Really bad looking place, that mocks the real integrity of the surrounding campus.

I haven't been over to Hickory and Eagle recently, yet the same sort of thing is morphing into another McChurch. This development again, within a stones through of crumbling church structures.

Please understand that I am not expecting Bishop Kmiec to move to the City's east side. I'm simply illustrating how one place can be maintained no matter what the expense when others are crumbling.

Looking at the deed for the Transfiguration sale in 1995 a number of restrictions were placed on the sale by the Dioscese. They are now not enforced. Do you know why? Let me know,

Best,

David