An illegal demolition at the former St. John the Baptist church at 60 Hertel Avenue in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood has been uncovered. The church is one of four masterpieces designed by the firm of Oakley and Schallmo in the 1920's. St. John, in a group with Blessed Trinity, St. Luke, and St. Casimir, displays the highest level of craftsmanship in brick architecture in the city. Shortly after 7:00pm on Tuesday October 6, Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was driving by on Hertel Avenue and noticed a rental lift on the lawn next to the church. Not recalling any action before the city's Preservation Board, Tielman stopped to investigate and discovered that the church's emblematic Italian Renaissance tower, along the East Street side of the building, was being demolished.
The tower was designed as a three-stepped structure terminating in an arcaded octagonal lantern with a tiled roof. Atop all was a cross. Below, the tower is supported by a square shaft with a monumental battered base. Architecturally, the tower forms a necessary counter balance to the extravagantly ornamented elevation, which features a heroic rose window over a Spanish Baroque portal. The east wall of the nave is held in place by a range of massive buttresses, of which the tower can be said to be the largest, as it supports the entire church by means of lateral bridging which is almost as stout as the tower itself.
It is this tower which is in a state of demolition. The uppermost lantern and cross are gone, and the lower octagon is partially gone. Wood and wire bracing wraps the tower, allowing for what appears to be demolition by hand. A pile of bricks lies at the base of the tower, and a large dumpster contains what appears to be the rest of the bricks of the demolished tower. A smaller dump-trailer contains interior demolition debris.
The last Catholic service was held in the church in 2005. Since then, a succession of entities owned it. Records show the the current owners are River Rock Church LLC and the Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship.
Tielman called Buffalo Commissioner of Inspections and Permits Jim Comerford immediately, looking for a stop-work order. Comerford reported that no permits had been issued for the work, and that he would send an inspector and the police in the morning. The Campaign will be there as well, bright and early.