Chris and I hate to admit it, but occasionally there are actually places that we cannot get into and/or may never be able to visit. This is not for lack of trying, but sometimes we are just unable to get a hold of someone willing to show us around, or maybe the place is condemned or maybe the place is locked down in preparation for future demolition. If you have been following our Facebook page at all (if you haven’t been you can find it here and don’t forget to ‘Like It!’), then you know this last example is what is happening to St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo, NY.
Because Chris and I really have zero chance in getting to see St. Ann’s, but feel the story and plight of the current church is worth telling, we have sought the help of a fellow blogger from the Buffalo area. Several months ago I came across some interior pictures of an amazing church in Buffalo, NY and after figuring out who took the photo, I emailed him. This began a dialogue with Mike Puma, who is the Project Manager at Preservation Studios. Mike has made his passion for preserving history into his full time job, plus Mike is an amateur photographer who hosts his incredible pictures here, he is a large supporter of promoting the Hamlin Park Historic District on the East Side of Buffalo, NY, he is the author of the blog Views of Buffalo and he also writes part-time for the web site Buffalo Rising. With that kind of resume, we figured Mike Puma was THE GUY to ask to write a post for our blog about St. Ann’s, from past to present. We are very fortunate that Mike agreed and also allowed us to post his pictures a long with it.
St. Ann’s Church has been an East Side landmark since 1878 when the cornerstone was laid for the magnificent edifice. The church was officially dedicated nearly a decade later on May 16, 1886. Constructed by great craftsmen of the era, the large church is filled with irreplaceable stained glass windows, intricate carvings and beautiful paintings.
The current St. Ann’s church is actually the second incarnation at Broadway and Emslie Street, the first was built in 1858. Like many other churches of the time, the parish experienced large growth and soon a new, larger house of worship was required. The predominately German parish began taking regular collections for their new church, but held off on its construction after learning the $135,000 price tag from their NYC architect, M. Himpel.
A few years later in 1875 the building campaign was reignited by Reverend Roether. Brother Charles Halfmann who was assisting the church, created his own concept for the new church that was based on Himpel’s plans. Although not an architect by training, he had traveled extensively in Europe and was inspired by different churches for the revised design.
The new church proceeded construction as money became available and under the direction of Brother Halfmann. Everything about the church was steeped in European tradition, including the stained glass windows that were made in Munich, which remain largely intact to this day. Massive spires originally towered over the church, but were later removed after a severe windstorm caused structural concerns in the mid-1960s.
After serving generations of faithful parishioners the Diocese of Buffalo announced in April 2013 that the church would be razed, citing structural issues and long term deferred maintenance on their part.
Parishioners were shocked to hear of the news, but weren’t quite surprised, since the Diocese of Buffalo shuttered the church last year without a long-term plan. Shortly after the closure, the Diocese changed the locks on St. Ann’s, forcing the remaining parishioners to worship in the basement of an adjacent building on the grounds. When news of the demolition was announced several groups were quick to rally around saving St. Ann’s and thankfully there have been some steps in the right direction.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the not-for-profit historic preservation advocate of WNY, was able to engage in a dialogue with the Diocese about seeking alternatives to the demolition. My personal inquiry with spokesman Kevin Keenan at the time revealed, “Selling is not an option.” Now that PBN is involved, that mentality has changed and the two organizations are working together to find a buyer with the means to rehabilitate the church.
Several developers are being engaged in an attempt to find a new use for the whole St. Ann’s campus that includes the church, a convent, and the massive school that spans the entire width of the block. In the meantime, advocates of the church are seeking local landmark status to further protect it from demolition. If officially designated, the Diocese of Buffalo would have to seek approval from the Preservation Board in addition to the Permits and Inspections Department, thus creating another level of review and a safeguard for the building.
Although the Diocese of Buffalo opposes the landmark designation, it looks as though the building will still be deemed a landmark at the next Common Council meeting. It went before the council this week, but had yet to be filed officially so the vote was deferred to their next meeting in two weeks.
The Diocese claimed that the landmark designation would inhibit the ability to reuse the structure. Any work performed to the building would have to be approved by the Preservation Board if it was land marked Given the price tag for the rehabilitation, the project would likely not move forward without the aid of the historic tax credit program, which uses the same “rule book” the Preservation Board uses for their review, essentially making their claim moot.
In the meantime, there are events transpiring in Rome to appeal directly with the Vatican to deny the Diocese of Buffalo the ability to demolish the church. While the appeal is being processed the Diocese is forbidden from demolishing the church, which buys some more time for courting an able developer.
If by any chance we ever have the chance to tour St. Ann’s, we will definitely jump at the opportunity and update this post. Until that time, we would like to thank Mike Puma for his hard work at putting this article together for us and for forgiving us ahead of time for continuing to hound him to get us into some more cool places in Buffalo.