This month’s addition to our list of ‘must save buildings’ is possibly in the most dire circumstances. The building is the abused and neglected, but still very elegant, Bethlehem Steel North Office Building. You can also read more about the building in the September Buffalo Spree. After decades of abandonment the building is in severely poor condition. It may have already been abandoned even when the massive steel plant was still in use. In my memory it seems to have always been either unused or underutilized. It was replaced as the main offices for what was once the third largest steel mill in the country when a new (and quite bland) office building was constructed to the south in Hamburg in the 1950s but was probably used up to about the 1970s (I am guessing here).
Interior pictures I have seen show a building deeply degraded with collapsed stairs, with pretty much every surface seriously corroded and decayed. But this is not the reason the building is in such grave danger of becoming landfill. Even with a few generations of neglect, its exterior looks remarkably intact. The brick walls look relatively solid and although the massive copper cornice is gone, the amazing and highly intricate copper work around the dormers is mostly in place and still in decent shape. The reason this building is in such grave danger is because of its location on a remote and contaminated former industrial site in Lackawanna. It sits behind a fence easily visible from Route 5 but it has no natural constituency. Most people experience the building while whizzing by at 60 miles per hour. It is part of no one’s neighborhood so no one really cares. Surprisingly, it is within a few feet of Ship Canal Commons.
How many have taken the time to really look and see how beautiful this building is? I would say not many. Sure it is in horrible condition but Buffalo has restored dozens of such “too far gone to be saved” buildings at this point. This building can be saved and certainly could be useful again. But it is in Lackawanna where there is little or no will to save historical buildings. Recent reports indicate that the City of Lackawanna is pushing to have it demolished. It has been only a few months since Lackawanna allowed the elegant St. Barbara’s Church to be destroyed (see here). This building most probably has much less chance than the church had. Too bad too because this building is not just a part of the history of Lackawanna. It is a piece of WNY heritage. It is a piece of American heritage. Once it is gone it will always be gone. How many more of these can we afford to lose?
You can find out more about this building and the former plant at the small but very interesting Bethlehem Steel Historical Museum housed in the county library branch just about a mile east on Ridge Road in Lackawanna. Images shown here are by Buffalo photographer Joe Cascio who has been photographing each of the Preservation Ready buildings (see here).