Many have praised this move to the south as a perfect solution to an intractable problem. People in Buffalo seemingly have no use for this important part of their cultural heritage and people in Atlanta desperately want to pretend they have a long standing cultural heritage. This has been described by the pro move people as a win win situation. Buffalo divests itself of a future eyesore and the building is put back to use. The only two scenarios presented so far make the Atlanta move seem logical, either in Buffalo the building rots for decades or in Atlanta it is put back to use and "saved". Except, the building is not really saved.
St. Johns is a good view into Buffalo's sad future if the St. Gerard's scheme is carried out. One of best architectural writers and observers anywhere, Lynn Becker, has penned the story included here in full by his permission. Lynn has written extensively on Architecture in Chicago. His work can be found in several publications as well as his own blog called Architecture Chicago Plus in which the following story on St. John appeared. His blog is worth reading even for those not in Chicago. Becker's story on St. John is deeply moving and poetic. The accompanying photos are beautiful and disturbing at the same time. Read this story and take in the future reality of "saving" St. Gerard's by sending it to a suburban parking lot near Atlanta.
The Flaying of St. John by Lynn Becker
The distant view, through Sherman Park, is a glimpse of something weird, almost Gaudian.
As you get to the edge of the park, at 52nd street, you come upon the immensity of it.
The story of St. John of God church is one repeated throughout the changing neighborhoods of every city. A great house of worship built to serve an influx of immigrants - in this case, Polish. Designed by Henry J. Schlacks, whose Renaissance facade was described by the AIA Guide to Chicago as a masterpiece, St. John of God was completed in 1920. By 1922, 2,400 families called it their parish. Then, as the story always goes, those families begin to disperse as white flight claims the neighborhood. Membership plummets, and, in 1992, the church is closed, a grand edifice sealed for an uncertain future. In time, after few can even remember when the building was active, it's demolished.
A piece of architecture that defined the lives of tens of thousands of people vanishes into thin air.
Except St. John of God doesn't. To be sure, the building will soon be forgotten history. It's carved limestone, however, lives on. Carefully, it was peeled away, to be re-assembled on a new church for St. Raphael the Archangel in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border.
For now, a single automobile tire rests incongruously in the foyer. Rubble is everywhere, even framing the great altar.
The destruction of St. John of God, and so many others like it, is testament to a society where everything is disposable. With their massive scale, solidity, and classical grandeur, structures like St. John look like they were built to endure forever. Now, stripped down to raw brick, it looks like a monument from some not-quite-placeable ancient civilization.
All of Schlack's Renaissance finish and detailing scraped away, St. John now appears timeless, its architectural style malleable and mysterious. The ruined entrance looks like it could be some ancient shrine in the Holy Land.