Mar 25, 2013

Great Potential for Residential Church Conversion is Squandered by Owners Unwilling to Sell

Another church on the east side is slated for demolition with an owner who is unwilling to sell. This handsome brick church at 41 Spruce Street (google map) was built for the First German Baptist Church in 1869. The current owners, Trinity Baptist Church, have owned the building since 1940 according to Erie County Property records.


I was able to get in touch with the church, located at 2930 Bailey Avenue and the receptionist informed me that the church will be demolished shortly and they will not consider selling it. This decision apparently comes after a structural report revealed the building was “beyond repair.”


A quick call to Inspections and Demolitions at City Hall confirms that demolition is imminent. I spoke with Taleshia in the office who stated that the owners have a demolition permit, but have not yet raised the necessary funds. Apparently, the owners are able to do a sort of payment plan pre-demo, which once fully funded will mean the end for this 144 year old church.


The following is a brief history of the church from James Napora’s fantastic document, Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York:

“Organized as the fourth Baptist church in the city, the First German Baptist Church was the third German Baptist congregation organized in the United States. In the early 1840s, a small group of German Baptists, under the leadership of Alexander von Puttkamner, a nobleman from Southern Germany, fled the religious persecution of their homeland. Arriving in Buffalo, the group joined the Washington Street Baptist Church also known as the First Baptist Church. Although welcome in the congregation, they did not feel comfortable with the English language service.  On 14 February 1849, twenty-four of these immigrants were dismissed to form their own congregation.

In January 1850, they acquired the property on which the building now stands and converted an old school house located on it for worship. By 1869, they had outgrown that space and had begun plans for the current structure. Recognizing the social importance of the place of worship, they constructed their building in a manner common to most German places of worship of the day. The actual auditorium was raised above street level, allowing for community and classroom space to be located on the lower level. Constructed at a cost of $14,000, they dedicated their new building on 6 February 1870.”


This wouldn’t be the first time a building has come down as a result of a questionable structural report with similar claims, see Bethlehem Steel demolition, but it’s anyone’s guess if that’s the case here. While I’m certainly not an engineer, from my personal observations, the extent of the deterioration seems largely repairable and looks limited to a small section of failed roofing and some slight masonry issues. I've dealt with buildings in my line of work that were in far worse condition than this, but were successfully rehabilitated.

The proximity of the building to downtown is incredible, less than one mile from Lafayette Square, easily reached in five minutes by bicycle. Additionally, Spruce Street is a sleepy little street where I have never encountered problems.

Given the size of this building, it’s not hard to imagine two residential units within it. The first floor classroom space is ideal for an open floor plan and could be easily separated from the upper floor sanctuary space.  The two rooms to the rear of the space, separated by pocket doors, would be ideal for a master bedroom in one and the kitchen in the other. The highlight of the building would be the unit in the sanctuary space.

Classroom space on first floor could be a large living and dining space. The master bedroom could be located in the room to the right with a full bath, while the kitchen could go in the room to the left
A simple design, keeping the space largely open and locating the bedroom on the balcony would allow for a magnificent unit, while retaining the open feeling associated with sanctuary spaces. Dividing the building into two units this way may even be acceptable within the historic tax credit program, which would allow an owner up to 40% in tax credits if the building were a certified historic structure. Churches are difficult to convert within HTC program because the sanctuary space cannot be divided. However, with my design concept the sanctuary would remain open, intact, and provide a wonderful living space for someone with the right vision.

Here is the sanctuary space that would serve as a fantastic living space, with the master bedroom elevated above on the former balcony, which features three large windows behind the structure that housed pipe organ pipes 

If anyone is interested in a serious attempt to try and sway the owners into selling, please get in touch with me and I’ll do my best to meet with them. For additional photos of the church, check out my Flickr page by clicking here.

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile


  1. Nice site for a future dollar store, because this is what America needs... more dollar stores.

  2. The sad thing is, Buffalo is lacking music venues. This would be a great music hall conversion. Never believe the “beyond repair” excuse as this is the "Supply Side" saying "Parking Ramp" thus the creation of the "Harriet Tubman Parking District." Many people in the region still demolish in dreams of Vegas on Lake Erie. I don't like Vegas.

  3. Damn, another one is gonna bite the dust, and for probably no good reason.

    Mike, can you include a Google Map of this location (and others you have blogged about)? If I had the free time I would croudsource it for you! Nice article and good blog. Thanks for all you do. - Ryan

    1. Just added! I always seem to forget that, thanks for reminding me. I'll be sure to add them consistently in the future. Thanks for reading

  4. Yeah another bogus "imminent danger of collapse" report, like the one they had for a historic 1840 church in NYC's Lower East Side that had a minor rear wall crack in it that the Arch Disease claimed they had to demolish the church because it was about to collapse.
    The demolition guys showed up while people were trying to save it, first thing they did was they totally SMASHED all of the massive stained glass windows, completely destroying every one of them while people were screaming at them to stop. The Arch Disease tried to minimize that by claiming the 1840 windows were just cheap painted glass!
    A local stained glass artist was quoted as saying those windows would have cost $100,000 each today to make.
    Next thing the demo guys did was they broke an 8 foot by 8 foot hole in the rear wall with the bulldozer- the very same wall they claimed was about to COLLAPSE- taking the whole buidling down with it, even with this big hole in it, it remained intact and stable.
    Next thing they did was they yanked out all of the 1840 hand made wood pews, threw them out through the hole in the wall and the guy with the bulldozer deliberately RAN OVER THEM! You see where this was all going? they were working fast and furiously to destroy everything of ANY value in that church so that saving it would not be an option and there would be nothing left worth to save.

    Long story short, lawsuits, injunctions and more stopped the demolition, the Arch Disease was still hell bent on DESTROYING this building and not selling it or whatever, then in 2008, an anonymous donor appeared and offered $20 million to restore St. Brigid and start a fund to help the parish school.
    The pews were replaced and the exterior restored to resemble the original brownstone. Stained glass windows were brought from St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Harlem, which closed in 2003.
    The total cost to fully restore the church was around $15 million.

    Google: St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church, Avenue B, New York City for the full story and photos.