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My Favorite Buildings: Our Lady of Lourdes Church

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get to writing about this amazing building.  Lourdes Church at 1115 Main Street, with its distinctive towers and elegant stone work, is one of the most prominent buildings on Main Street and one of the most beautiful church buildings in Buffalo.  I was mesmerized when I first found it as kid during one of my many urban explorations. At that time, the church seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.  I felt like I had ventured deep into the city’s mysterious and dangerous east side, although I had only just crossed Main Street.

Back then, in the late 1970s, this area of Buffalo was in steep decline. My parents would not have wanted me wandering around here.  General Hospital and Roswell were a few blocks away, as they are today, but they did not constitute the powerhouse medical center that is now the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC). The apartment buildings across the street from the church were derelict along with most of the rest of Main.  Even elegant Linwood Avenue, a block to the west, was on a downward trajectory back then.  Although still in use when I first cam upon it, the church looked abandoned even then, but was not closed until 1993 as part of the Diocese of Buffalo’s first round of consolidations.  Once closed, all but one piece of the Lourdes statuary was sold off according to this website. The single remaining work of art, a statue of Mary, can be found in a local Catholic cemetery (but I am not sure which one)

 The apartment buildings framing this dramatic view of the church have recently been renovated.

Picture 474After closure the building passed through several owners and was eventually stripped of all its windows and remaining valuable interior decoration. It was then left open to the weather. Gaping holes remained where delicately detailed stained glass once filtered light.  The delinquent owner did not even have the courtesy to board the building and protect it from further deterioration.  Its beautiful architecture, amazing craft, and over 110 years of history were rendered worthless by neglectful ownership and a city that has no plan to protect its assets. The building was pretty much left as a valueless shell waiting for demolition.  Why was this allowed? Where were the city inspectors?  Why is it OK to strip value from the city? Where was the local news media as this was building was being destroyed? This should not be an acceptable way of doing business in Buffalo. I thought the building was pretty much doomed. But this is a different Buffalo and a ver different neighborhood from the one I first experienced decades ago.  There is hope for Lourdes, I hope.

The most recent owner, as reported by Preservation Ready Sites, is 9274 Group, Inc, a company controlled by Ellicott Development. Ellicott  boarded up the windows after some public cajoling on the internet a few years ago.  You can see heart breaking images of the stripped church herehere, and here. Two other buildings, which made up the Lourdes campus along with most of the houses on the neighboring St Paul Mall have been torn down over the last year including as recently as a week ago.  Ellicott has stated that they have mixed use plans for the Lourdes site, which include renovation of the church.  To the best of my knowledge no plans or renderings of this proposal have yet been released to the public.

The Lourdes neighborhood is on a new upward trajectory these days.  Possibilities for this property are quite promising.  BNMC is booming, with new projects announced regularly, the hot Elmwood Village real-estate market is spreading its influence laterally,  and Main Street has not looked this good in years. The gutted church actually provides an opportunity for intriguing and exciting architecture. In this raw state, a talented architect could have a lot of fun with this building.  I have great hopes for what they come up with.  I am less hopeful about the rest of the recently shovel ready property, however.  While Ellicott has done several high quality renovation projects, their portfolio of new builds often leave much to be desired, in my opinion. Here is to hoping they build an exciting high quality new project that respects and adds to the city’s urbanism.  If we tear down irreplaceable historic assets we must expect and demand high quality in return. Buffalo deserves no less.

This vintage photo was taken in the early 1980s.  Notice the now demolished rectory building to the right.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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