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There’s a new trend in Upstate New York: Developers wanting to tear down beautiful old churches.

In Rochester, there’s a proposal to tear down a 140-year-old former Presbyterian church and build a Dollar General. City Hall put the brakes on the plan, though it’s not completely dead.

Former Westminster Presbyterian Church (Photo Credit: Rochester Subway)

Former Westminster Presbyterian Church (Photo Credit: Rochester Subway)


In Buffalo, the city plans to issue demolition permits to the owners of a church damaged by fire, despite opposition from neighborhood and preservation groups.

Buffalo church (Credit: Buffalo Rising)

Buffalo church (Credit: Buffalo Rising)


In Watervliet, a judge cleared the way for a former Catholic church built in 1891 to be torn down so Price Chopper can build a store.

St. Patrick's Church, Watervliet

St. Patrick’s Church, Watervliet


In Albany, a proposal to reuse a 19th century Gothic-style church as a brewery and pub met neighborhood opposition. The historical society says the brewery may be the last option to save the structure.

St. Joseph’s Church, Albany


One need only Google “church demolition” and you’ll see this has been happening all over the country for some time. These buildings, with their beautiful designs and craftsmanship cannot be duplicated. Their loss changes the character of neighborhoods. It would be nice to see creative reuse, restoration and preservation take precedence over big box stores and parking lots.

Links of the Day:

– The Rochester Police Department could go from two precincts to four. The department used to have seven sections until then-Chief Bob Duffy recommended going to two. The East-West model has been extremely unpopular.

– Big pharmaceutical companies are interested in buying Bausch + Lomb. Some might want to break it up.

– Buffalo city schools look to go from eight football teams to four.

Patronage is rife in Onondaga County.

– Amid calls for more mental health screening and treatment, experts say there’s simply no tool to identify potential mass murderers.

– This city is ditching curbs, so pedestrians, bicycles and cars have to equally share the street.

– The bride (and groom) wore camouflage. Soldiers get married at the Albany airport before heading back to active duty.

18 Responses to Tearing Down Churches

  1. January 4, 2013 at 10:16 am Amy Voelkl responds:

    This is a frightening trend – tearing down pieces of history to put up slapped-together storefronts. I\’m reminded of the lyric, \”pave paradise, put up a parking lot\”.

  2. January 4, 2013 at 10:26 am Hahvahd St responds:

    My friend lives down the street from that church, and it has been vacant since at least 2009. I am all for historic preservation, but there\’s a point where a building goes from \”historic\” to just \”old\”. No one ever gives a crap about these buildings until someone actually wants to do something with them. All of the sudden there\’s an uproar, but no one has actually tried to fix the anything. Sometimes you have to let an old building go. I hate Dollar Generals as much as the next person, but at least it\’s a functioning building.

  3. There are some 4,000 registered historical buildings in Rochester. We can\’t keep track of all of them all the time.

    Furthermore, Marvin Maye, the landowner, bought the building knowing of its historical designation. Since then, he has been encouraging people to trash the place so he has an excuse to tear it down. This is not responsible, ethical development.

  4. January 4, 2013 at 10:49 am theodore kumlander responds:

    they want to tear down beutiful churchs that have such emotional and powerful architecture because it reminds the people when they had souls and imagination.now we are all part of the tv machine, and live with industrial architecture cinder block boxs with a garish facade. that reflects what dull people we have become in the good ol US of A

  5. January 4, 2013 at 10:53 am Hahvahd St responds:

    The churches had such emotional and powerful architecture that no one has done ANYTHING with them in years! No one cares until they are getting taken away.

  6. January 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    I don\’t understand you, Hahvahd. Of course people in the neighborhood care about these churches. But what do you expect any one of them to do? None alone could afford the building, if it even was offered on the open market. But if we as a community care about preserving a building/property that none of us alone could afford, we can advocate for saving it using whatever means are available via our local governments. Isn\’t that what government is about?

    • \”Of course people in the neighborhood care about these churches. But what do you expect any one of them to do?\”

      How about, ATTEND THE CHURCHES! People say these buildings are beautiful and should be preserved, how many of them have even set foot inside these churches?

      I\’m the Parish Council Chair of a church that sits on the main corner of a small community in our area. People say all the time what a \”landmark\” our church is, how much they love having it there, etc. But when we throw open our doors and ask the community to come and hear what we have to say… silence.

      A church isn\’t a building, it\’s the people inside, sharing their faith and works. If you like the building, come inside and see what they have to share… Otherwise this trend will absolutely continue.

  7. January 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm Hahvahd St responds:

    I\’m saying nobody has advocated to help this Buffalo church (which is nothing special in the looks department) since 2006, so obviously it wasn\’t that big of a deal. My friend lives on that street and says its just a place crackheads break into. My point is if these places are so important, why do they sit unused for so long, then all of the sudden become treasured when someone wants to do something useful with it.
    I love historic buildings and appreciate when they can be reused. I think a great example of this is the Chase Bank on Monroe, which is in the original bank building, with some modern additions. Also, I thought the Genesee Brew House is an excellent example of using part of the historic structure while knocking down the part that no one had used in years. We can\’t save every old building, sometimes they just turn from \”historic\” to just plain \”old and crappy\”.

  8. My friend lives on that street and says its just a place crackheads break into.

    Marvin Maye has a history of neglecting his properties and allowing them to become havens for drug dealers and prostitutes. Ask the Plymouth-Exchange Neighborhood Association. Maye owns that eyesore of a strip mall on South Plymouth near the Ford St. roundabout. PLEXNA has tried to work with him to help improve the property, but he never keeps his appointments. President Dorothy Hall testified to this during the hearing about the church on West Main. Residents of the SBA Neighborhood I\’ve spoken with say the same thing about the properties he already owns there. Given his track record, it\’s doubtful the Dollar General will be any different.

  9. And like I said before, Maye has actually been encouraging the type of behavior your friend is talking about. Again, he bought the church knowing of its historical designation and has been basically trying to destroy the place so he can have an excuse to tear it down. A woman I spoke with who lives on West Main saw people breaking into the church and stealing copper wire. She called Maye to let him know and he said to her, \”Those are my people.\” The man is a slumlord, not a developer.

  10. January 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm Douglas A. Fisher responds:

    When the Xerox Tower opened many decades ago, everyone believed that real estate in downtown Rochester was well-located and extremely valuable.

    Claude Bragdon\’s First Universalist Church was the only building standing between the Xerox Tower and the then-thriving Midtown Plaza. A parishioner lobbied the congregation to sell this church to a developer, who would demolish it and construct an office building. With the excessive dollars thus obtained, the church could then build a new building in the suburbs, and have plenty of money left over.

    I confronted this man after a service one Sunday, and made the case that fine architecture is a spiritual value. I asked him: \”Do you want this congregation to be on record as being a poor guardian of spiritual values?\”

    This viewpoint shook him to the core. He backed off of his lobbying, and, apparently from embarrassment, no longer attended this church.

    Just imagine what would have been lost had he succeeded. That spot today would be highly problematical today, with any successor building likely being both an aesthetic and an economic failure.

    Today\’s preservation of what is perhaps Claude Bragdon\’s finest surviving building is absolutely the highest and best use for the site, particularly as it retains its original use.

  11. January 5, 2013 at 10:40 am Lawrence Congdon responds:

    This is a great conundrum.

    On one hand you have the beauty and even now-vanished craftsmanship of these buildings; on the other hand if they have spend years without serving a community-enhancing, tax- and property value-generating purpose, they are interfering in the health of our cities.

    As well, many faithful have a visceral horror at the mere thought of even an abandoned house of worship being demolished or re-purposed.

    Here in Buffalo, unused churches have been successfully converted into condos, offices and yoga studios, the headquarters of Ani Defranco\’s Babeville Records (including, of course, a nice concert space); and most recently an immigrant community\’s Buddhist temple, where larger-than-life size statues of him meditate under stained glass.

  12. January 5, 2013 at 10:19 pm ladyrogue responds:

    Heaven forbid they just be there, for cultural and historical reasons, and to add visual interest in our increasingly generic streetscapes. And hopefully find a reuse that is suitable. But no, every square foot no matter how significant architecturally or environmentally must be offered up to the almighty dollar.

  13. The reason no one \”cares\” until someone wants to tear it down, is because until then the buildig isn\’t threatened. Many of these old buildings even though they look rough with neglect, can be brought back to life. So we don\’t \”care\” until its threatened because until someone wants to knock it down its in a holding pattern able to be used. Once knocked down its gone forever.

    In this case, I don\’t really find the west ave church particularly worth saving, but the dollar general worth fighting. Were talking a cheap garbage store with a few part time minimum wage workers and 1 or 2 just above minimum wage full timers. It isn\’t going to help the neighborhood. If the hitched is going to go, it needs to be replaced with somethig that will benefit the neighborhood. Dollar General is like a parasite feeding on the poor.

    • January 6, 2013 at 9:22 am Lawrence Congdon responds:

      Dollar Stores and the like taking advantage of the people in poor neighborhoods is part of the price we pay for having a free, (essentially) capitalist society.

      Here in Buffalo\’s Upper West Side, a handful of religious gather (or did gather) weekly, early in the morning, to pray in front of one of the several \”rent to own\” stores here, for them to leave.

      (Not that I personally share their beliefs, but do appreciate their desire)

  14. Has writing an article become so tedious that instead of writing you just put links in? Journatic is that you?!

  15. January 10, 2013 at 2:20 am Peter Lacovara responds:

    We need some tax reform legislation on this score. These buildings were built all by community support and did not pay taxes. Now churches and other organizations are abandoning the communities that supported them and are looking for cash. If such buildings are sold for commercial purposes (ie. to be torn down for the land) then they should be taxed. The laws could exempt other non-profits or preservation schemes.

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