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Demolition crew begins tearing down church

A demolition crew Monday afternoon began tearing down the remains of a deteriorated church at Vermont Avenue and Niagara Street, apparently ending hope that the landmark church's unique brick walls could be saved and reused for another purpose.

The emergency demolition of the former St. Mary's-on-the-Hill Episcopal Church was ordered by City Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney after neighbors complained that an adjoining parsonage appeared ready to collapse in their yards.

"I feel bad about the church, because it was a nice church years ago," said Maria Cotroneo, who has a home on Prospect Street that backs up to the wooden parsonage.

"I think the roofing paper up there is holding it together," she said. "This is truly a danger. Every time it rains, the roof gets wetter, which makes it heavier. I don't know what's keeping it up. It's totally deteriorated. It's been neglected for a long, long time."

Several children live in homes in the immediate vicinity of the buildings, Cotroneo said.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said no one stepped forward with a viable plan to save the roofless church, which dates back to 1893.

"It was falling apart," he said.

Preservationists were able to forestall an emergency demolition in 2010, after part of the church's bell tower collapsed. At that time, Mayor Byron W. Brown intervened when the building was declared a safety hazard and gave preservationists more time to find a new use for the property.

"It's a very, very sad ending, and I don't think it ever should have come to this," said Kathleen R. Mecca, president of the Columbus Park Association.

The neighborhood group and area preservation organizations began sounding alarm bells about the structure more than three years ago, "when it was still intact," Mecca said.

The city wasn't aggressive enough with the former property owner, who lived in the Bronx and did nothing to stabilize the buildings, she said.

"Today, what we are faced with is a conversation of what was and what will no longer be," she added.

Another West Side resident, Margaret Pascale, commented that the corner is now "going to be a big, ugly, empty space."

"They could have saved the facade just so we know what it looks like," said Pascale.

The sandstone structure across from the Connecticut Street Armory was considered a prime example of English-Gothic style architecture.

The church closed in 1993 when its membership dwindled to the point that it could no longer support the buildings.