Its location and contributing status in the Hamlin Park Historic District enables the owner to utilize the 20% or 40% historic tax credit program. The 20% path would assume homeownership only, but the 40% program requires the church to be an income producing property, i.e. multiple residential units, commercial space, or a restaurant for example. The nomination was prepared by Preservation Studios and recently listed on the State Register. It is currently at National Park Service for their review and listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
St. Francis De Sales sits on nearly one and a half acres and boasts over 23,000 square feet. A partially raised basement with nine-foot ceilings provides additional room for gatherings and would be a great candidate for a few residential units or one large tenant.
The church was dedicated in 1928 and was the third version the congregation had built on that site. Typical of most churches in early 20th century Buffalo, the parishioners continued to outgrow their space so the need for a new larger church came twice before the existing church. George Dietel, the architect of Buffalo City Hall, designed it with input from Murphy & Olmsted architects in Washington, D.C. The previous iteration was a combined church and school, which is currently the parking lot.
It was shuttered by the Diocese of Buffalo in 1993 and has gone through a handful of different congregations since. Although the building is intact and operational, it does have some needs that require attention. The roof is the most apparent issue and leaks from several locations. The resulting damage is minimal, but should be corrected as soon as possible to avoid significant issues.
The building is clad entirely in limestone with a vibrant ceramic tile roof and tall campanile that is visible from miles around. Much of the stained glass has been removed over the years, but the striking rose window on the front remains completely intact. The interior is rich with ornamentation and detailing, but the real stunner is the large dome where the transept and nave meet. An oculi at the center of the dome pulls in natural light and at the right time of day creates a great beam of light.
Empty churches in Buffalo are a hot topic and many have been reused or successfully converted for residential use. However, those churches were not able to use the historic tax credits because under the current Department of the Interior’s Standards, dividing the sanctuary space is not possible. That rule has spelled demolition for some churches like the North Park Baptist Church. Although a sensitive proposal was created for dividing the interior while respecting the character of the building, it was still deemed inappropriate within the Standards.
As more and more churches close across the country we’re left with a large catalogue of beautiful spaces, most of which are eligible for National Register listing and tax credits that come along with the designation. There have been many discussions surrounding the need to revise the Standards so that these magnificent buildings can be divided in a way that both respects the character and feeling of the space, but can also generate a profit to ensure their continued existence. Conversations are ongoing, but the Standards have yet to be revised.
For additional photos of St. Francis De Sales, check out my album on ipernity, by clicking here.