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Cupola of Corpus Christi Church is removed for repairs to second tower

They called themselves the “liftoff party” – the 15 people who gathered Friday to watch the 8,000-pound cupola being removed from the north tower of Corpus Christi Catholic Church. The East Side landmark that sits on the corner of Clark and Kent streets has some superheros on its side.

There’s Christine Cooley, a volunteer-turned-secretary who landscapes, archives and wields a paintbrush that gives new life to old church statues. Flanked by her grandsons, Cooley told the story behind the letters discovered two years ago inside the 8-foot cross that topped the south tower.

“Usually when a Polish church is built, it’s a custom to have children write down their thoughts and wishes and place them in one of the crosses,” said Cooley. “The letters were bundled with ribbon, wire, shoestring. They were so deteriorated. Along with the letters were pieces of rosaries, tiny medals. And they were soaking wet. We dried them on Saran Wrap.”

Lucy Ederer, president of the Friends of Corpus Christi, said the north tower project was 11 years in the making. The $612,000 project will dismantle the deteriorating cupola on-site. A new copper top, matching the original in materials and design, will be installed after repairs on the stone tower are complete.

The south tower renovation was completed in June 2012 at a cost of $566,000 – a sum largely paid for with a grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The deterioration of the 105-year-old, 8,000-pound cupola was hastened by the harsh industrial environment, and its location within blocks of the Central Terminal.

“Don’t forget the high-speed trains burned coal for fuel,” Ederer said. “There was a lot of acid rain.”

Add Buffalo’s steel mills and you can see why the copper-clad cupola was pocked with tiny holes that welcomed water – not to mention the seven bullet holes discovered in the south tower two years ago.

Jim Serafin is a volunteer who on Friday was talking up the upcoming cupola display to take place behind the church convent at 176 Clark St. Visitors may view the cupola, take photos and sign up for a memento.

“Once it is dismantled, both flat copper and ornamental finials and balls will be dated and available for a donation,” said Serafin. “In addition, index cards will be available for visitors to write messages. The cards will be put into the new cross before the cupola is raised back up. This was done for the south tower two years ago and over 400 letters were placed in that cross.”

Historian Martin Ederer, husband of Lucy, has taken a proprietary role in the life of the towers that scrape the sky at 130 feet.

“Those are my towers,” said the SUNY Buffalo State professor, and then he explained why.“We got the bells working in the north tower. We started the clocks so they work, and we cleaned hundreds of pounds of pigeon crap out of them.”

Ederer’s current tower task list includes installing chicken wire to block the entry of pigeons and giving the clocks a new coat of face paint.

Overseeing the renovations is Jim Ciancio, co-owner of Allstate General Contracting in West Seneca. He called the Corpus Christi job both gratifying and challenging. He outlined the renovation process.

“We have structural steel, wood planking and copper sheathing, as well as fabrication of ornamental work,” Ciancio said. “We’ll replace old masonry to accommodate the setting of the new dome.”

Ciancio expects the project to be complete in six to seven weeks.

The cupola can be viewed from noon to 6 p.m. today, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. next Saturday and Aug. 17. The church’s harvest festival, called Dozynki Festval, runs Friday, next Saturday and Aug. 17.