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Arsonist destroyed a community treasure

It was last Feb. 18, and my girlfriends had just left my house after an evening of talking, snacking and catching up on what was happening in everyone's family. I was stacking the good dishes on the dining room table and cleaning up when I heard the sirens.

All of a sudden, the rumble of a fire truck rattled my house. Then there was another fire truck and more sirens from emergency vehicles. I looked out my door and down the block, which was ablaze with flashing lights and flames.

I questioned whether I should go out on that cold and snowy night, but I decided against it because I knew what was burning. I knew it was the small white church building with the cupola on the top that had been standing in the next block since 1896.

This church was built by German immigrants and was the original home to the congregation of the Immanuel Lutheran religion. It was the type of building you see on postcards from New England or on a ride in the country. Every small town has one, and this building was a treasure in our old Buffalo neighborhood. It was a landmark and one of the nine church buildings that grace Iron Island.

I was aware of the history because the owners donated the wooden altar from that church to the Iron Island Museum in 2005. Our group was invited to tour that building after a few problems had developed in Housing Court. We agreed to assist the owners who came to us for help.

It seems that some people did not want them living there. In fact, every time some improvement was made, vandals would spray paint over the new paint or tear off the clapboards. At one time, the vandalism revealed the cornerstone of the church, which had "1896" chiseled into the stone. I personally was heartbroken when I saw the destruction, and couldn't figure out why anyone would do such a terrible thing.

I was asked to go to Housing Court with the owner, and I did get a chance to speak in front of Judge Henry Nowak in support of this historic building. Nowak seemed like a fair man and he did not want the building demolished, however, others who appeared before him wanted it gone.

In the meantime, I was the recipient of several anonymous, insulting letters. If that wasn't bad enough, my car got egged and I had to file a police report. But when I hadn't heard from the owners for a few months, I figured that everything was OK.

The day after the fire, my daughter, Linda, stopped at the burned-out building and spoke to a fire investigator who told her it was arson. The investigators knew of our interest in preserving this former church, and they stopped to see me and told me that the only way to solve this crime was to have someone admit that they started the fire. We knew that was not going to happen.

Starting a fire is a very selfish thing to do. The criminal did not think of the lives of the firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians who had to respond.

My girlfriends like to come back to the old neighborhood where most of them grew up, but I'm glad they left before midnight, because I didn't want them to see the destruction of one of the landmarks in their old Iron Island.

There now is a vacant lot down the street from me, and a criminal is laughing at the thought that he got away with striking a match on that cold and snowy night.

Marge Thielman Hastreiter, of Buffalo,1laments the demise of a landmark.

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