Days after a death bell tolled for one of Buffalo’s most historically significant churches, parishioners and preservationists alike are already hard at work advocating for it to be saved.
Nearly 80 parishioners, historians, and other concerned community members packed into a meeting room at SS. Columba-Brigid Church Wednesday night to discuss the fate of historic St. Ann Church on Broadway, which is slated to be razed after an engineering study commissioned by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo determined the 127-year-old building is so structurally deficient as to be unsafe.
“You can’t let a building like this go,” said Thomas Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. The nonprofit preservation advocacy group is currently working with local developers, government and elected officials, and parishioners to find a viable alternative to demolition.
One developer in particular with experience renovating church complexes has shown interest in acquiring the property, Yots said. One possible use of the church and its campus of associated buildings would be to convert some into mixed-use residential and retail properties while allowing the church to reprise its role as a place of worship.
The architectural gem on the city’s East Side, known especially for its stunning interior, has lost much of its luster over the years, with eroding masonry, leaky gutters and damage to both towers topping a long list of needed repairs. St. Ann officially closed in April 2012, five years after its congregation was merged with that of SS. Columba-Brigid on Eagle Street as part of a sweeping diocesan consolidation plan that shuttered 70 churches throughout Western New York.
The diocese has said it cannot justify spending the estimated $8 million to $12 million it would take to repair the building. But many in attendance Wednesday night argued that the church’s value, both as a place of worship and a historical object, far outweighed the cost of restoration.
“It should be a historical landmark” said James Herr, a longtime member of St. Ann who attended the meeting with his wife, Rose. Herr, 58, went to grammar school at St. Ann, as did many of his relatives. His grandfather installed the lights which have graced the church altar for half a century or more.
Just as he had a personal connection to the building, Herr said the city of Buffalo was inextricably linked to the history of the church, which was originally constructed by parishioners.
Martin Ederer, who co-chairs the revitalization committee that has been meeting on the church’s behalf since 2006, elaborated on St. Ann’s rich architectural heritage, calling the church a testament to the city’s immigrant past. The church, he explained, was not built by the rich, but by the members of the East Side’s multinational 19th century community.
“Buffalo has a long record of bulldozing buildings and regretting it later,” Ederer said, encouraging those with a say in the church’s fate to “understand what we may lose.”
Sister Rosemary Anthony, 82, who for years taught at the grammar school, praised the church for its unique ability to bring the congregation together. “It’s a beautiful place of worship,” she said.
Diocese officials have yet to release a timetable for the demolition.