Boycott the Peace Bridge!

The Episcopal Church Home, represented for most Buffalonians for over a century by the iconic landscape of the Hutchinson Chapel and Thornton Memorial Hall, is under imminent threat of demolition. The chapel, Thornton Hall, and the landscape, an island of tranquility in the shadow of the Peace Bridge, was designated a City of Buffalo landmark in 1980. The Public Bridge Authority (PBA) and politicians, right up to the governor’s office, have long salivated over the prospect of increased payments into PBA coffers from Duty-Free sales.


The proposal to demolish the Episcopal Church Home (ECH), as well as a row of historic houses on Busti Avenue, is being driven exclusively, PBA documents show, to build a massive Duty-Free complex big enough to accommodate a feared diesel fueling station for tractor trailers and a gas station for cars. Lieutenant Governor Duffy parachuted into town on short notice on August 24th to announce the Cuomo Administration’s latest effort to facilitate the plaza expansion. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has filed suit in state court to block the demolitions, and also opposes the demolition of the ECH.

Henry Osgood Holland, a Buffalo architect best-known for his Temple Beth-El on Richmond Avenue, designed Thornton Memorial Hall and its accompanying landscape in 1903-05. The building was named for Thomas Thornton, a local notable who was deeply involved in the “Church Charity Foundation.” Thornton Hall, Hutchinson Chapel and their setting are not only a beautiful design, but also a historic reminder of the importance of religious organizations before government care existed for the indigent.

Once officially transferred to the Public Bridge Authority, these landmarks will likely be bulldozed by a careless lot of businessmen in expensive suits, who seem unconcerned about the future of the neighborhood! They will then encircle the 1895 Hutchinson Memorial Chapel with giant cement walls and a ramp to the new Duty-Free store they hope to build.

But before the real estate deal closes between the State of New York and the Episcopal Church Home (ECH), numerous people came forward at City Housing Court on Thursday to address the issues on the site. Campaign for Greater Buffalo (C4GB) Executive Director Tim Tielman, representing the City of Buffalo Preservation Board, requested that Judge Carney allow the Board access to the City-landmarked Thornton building, due to potential code violations. They were denied that access after a tour of the Hutchinson Memorial Chapel in late July, which was to assess the condition of the structure. C4GB Special Projects Assistant Dana Saylor researched the properties this summer, and confirmed that indeed, both were granted City Landmark status in 1980. Carney ordered that access be granted.


Carney ordered the ECH to comply with the fire code and restore the sprinkler system at the site. It had been cut off, presenting a hazard to the buildings and neighborhood. Neighborhood residents, and board members of the C4GB, present at court, voiced concerns over blossoming graffiti, vandalism, and a lack of site maintenance by the ECH management. C4GB attorney Richard Berger clarified the urgency, stating that as soon as the State of New York or other entity completes the purchase, it will be out of City court jurisdiction. The PBA has a poor record of maintaining their properties, as evidenced by the row of historic homes on Busti Ave that they have allowed to languish, even helped along with recent “asbestos abatement” damage. City Inspector Michael Muscarella is working with ECH officials to ensure compliance with codes. Should they fail to do as they are required by the court, certainly there will be pressure from not only the neighbors and preservation groups, but Judge Carney as well.

Saylor vowed that the C4GB would continue its vigorous efforts to protect the landmarks. The PBA’s decades-long refusal to compromise is hampering the potential for neighborhood revitalization and heritage-driven economic development. Historic sites such as the Darwin D. Martin House, Canalside, and the Richardson Center (at which renovation has not yet been completed) draw huge international tourism crowds. We must recognize the importance of these landmarks for the public and the betterment of Buffalo, and preserve them to improve our future.

Nativity Church to Light Up Its Stained Glass Windows for Holy Week, March 16-23

Beginning Palm Sunday, March 16, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and continuing each night of the Catholic Holy Week, parishioners, friends of Nativity and the general public are invited to view the spectacular stained glass windows of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, corner of Albany and Herkimer Streets on Buffalo's West Side. It is of interest to preservationists for two reasons. First, the opportunity to see the architecture lighted from within in a kind of reverse image, and then through the stained art glass. Second, to see first hand the quality of one of the many churches the Diocese of Buffalo is discussing closing.

The windows will be lighted from within the Church, allowing them to be viewed during a leisurely stroll around the Church or from one's vehicle. Neighborhood residents can enjoy them simply by walking by on an errand or looking out the livingroom window.

Connors_window Each window is a gem of stained glass artistry depicting a biblical scene from the Gospels. All are welcome to stop for as long as one would like to meditate on these beautiful works as well as to take in the beauty of Nativity Church, which dominates the open triangle of land where Albany, Hampshire, and Normal streets come together.

Nativity Church, which serves the Buffalo's central West Side, was dedicated in 1903. It was designed by Albert Post in the Neo-Gothic style and rendered in Medina sandstone.  Gothic architecture is best known for the architectural innovation of the pointed arch, which made it possible to place many windows in otherwise heavy stone buildings, suffusing the interiors with light. Windows changed from very simple openings to rich designs filled with stained glass.

The windows of the nave were often used to illustrate biblical scenes. The windows were commonly paid for by individual parishioners as a permanent memorial to a loved one. Such is the case at Nativity, with perhaps the most famous one being that donated by William J. "Fingy" Connors in memory of his father, Peter. (illustration, left) Connors rose from being a teen-aged orphan in the Old First Ward to controlling 40,000 dockworkers on the Great Lakes, being the owner of the Buffalo Courier Express and the chairman of the New York State Democratic party around the time Nativity Church was erected. The Connors Memorial Window can be seen on the west elevation, along a walkway between the church and the convent.

The south elevation, or Albany Street side, is dominated by a three-part Gothic window with geometric stained glass designs. These can be seen to great advantage from the open space across the street. Similar stained glass adorns the apse, best seen from Herkimer street near the rectory.

The lighting of the windows is designed to share the beauty of the church with those who have not seen them from the inside, during the most sacred period of the Catholic calendar. Rev. Angelo Chimera sees the lighting as transforming the church into a colorful beacon of hope and the beginning of a tradition.

Save Our Churches, Save Our Neighborhoods Brainstorming Session is a Font of Ideas

Queen_of_peace Over 125 people attended The Campaign for Greater Buffalo's initial meeting of its Save Our Churches, Save Our Neighborhoods campaign. The goal was to provide background of the Buffalo Diocese's plan to close up to 60 parishes, the fate of previously closed churches, and to gather ideas for action. Buffalo Common Council President David Franczyk and North District Councilmember Joseph Golombek, Jr. made eloquent presentations. It was a success on all counts.

Continue reading "Save Our Churches, Save Our Neighborhoods Brainstorming Session is a Font of Ideas" »