Did you happen to hear that The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Buffalo one of the 2009 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Did you know that the National Preservation Conference will be hosted in Buffalo in 2011? Did anyone tell The City these things? I just got back from witnessing a ‘therapeutic demo’ underway at Saint Mary’s Church on the Hill. That sounds so reassuring – therapeutic? That means that pretty much everything but the walls are coming down. The bell tower is on its way out, the gable is gone, the roof imploded (more) and Buffalo has pretty much lost another one of its architecturally significant architecture trophies… except for the walls, which may or may not come down (see back story).
What really gets me is that too few people know what the hell is going on. As I stood there talking to the therapeutic demo team, Councilman David Rivera walked up and clearly had no knowledge of the significance of the demo. How does the Councilman for the district not know what is happening? How much is coming down? Apparently he was not told that the bell tower was going to be coming down. Or the gable. Or what is going to be saved, or what is un-savable. The demo crew informed me that the roof took a turn for the worse over the weekend and partially collapsed… more. Of course The City needs to protect the neighborhood from a dangerous scenario. But David actually thought that the church was going to be saved for the most part – until the demo crew informed him otherwise. He had originally assumed that a therapeutic demo would maintain the integrity of the church. “Now they are giving us the worst case scenario,” David told me. “The City was trying to demolish the building months earlier. The City’s position was that it already lost a million dollars on The Jersey Livery Stable. It doesn’t want to spend that money again. We tried to prolong this by holding the owners accountable. Otherwise the building would have been demolished months ago. I wish The City worked with us more closely. I am the one branch of The City. There is another side of The City. I can be an advocate… I can lobby… but there are other branches that I have to work with. They don’t want to spend City money on private buildings.”
So what happens when the owner is not held accountable? The City should look at these historic structures as investments in our future, not liabilities. Nobody wants to spend City money on a building that is owned privately. How much is The City’s surplus again? I would think that there would be cases that justify spending some of that money to protect our historic architectural stock that continues to get so much national press. These owners never intended to do anything with the building, and should have been called out a long time ago. Obviously housing court only buys time for the owners to claim the property is at risk to the community. Demolition by neglect? The owner should have had serious pressure applied. Instead, David told me that the owner was hard to find. Oh well. Out of sight, out of mind. From David:
“The previous owner went through and took out the supports that held up the roof. They replaced the beams with 2x4s. It looks like they stripped it. So why would the current owner buy the building? The only time that we were able to speak to anyone was when they were brought into court. I didn’t know that they were taking down the bell tower until today. That’s the first that I heard of that. I had been told that there was going to be a therapeutic demolition – the bell tower was a surprise.
“Now I’m very concerned. I feel sick and aggravated. How are buildings in the city of Buffalo allowed to get into this shape? It’s a lack of code enforcement. It’s a serious, serious problem. If you take on the inspection department you step on toes. I don’t mind doing that. We stepped in front of bulldozers at The Livery. In the past, the City departments have worked with me. Unfortunately, The City looks at this in the terms of dollars and cents. I’m trying to get some answers from the owner. These types of owners buy buildings and then they sit on them. They are speculators. I’m not trying to put the administration down, I want to work with them. I need to make some phone calls.”