Congregation members reflect as construction crews demolish century-old church

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s demolition day and what some are saying a sad day as Salem Evangelical Reformed Church, which has been standing for longer than a century, comes down and is reduced to rubble.

“Everyone talks about this church all the time,” said James Williams who lives near the church and was married there in 1998. “Once it is physically gone it’s like wow.”

“Through this church, there was some fantastic memories and things done for the community,” said Andrew Case, who was raised in the house next door to the church while his dad was serving as its pastor.

Case is among the many former congregation members are coming out and looking on as demolition begins.

“This is hallowed ground for me,” said Case.  “It was my first home.”

While reminiscing about time spent at the church, thoughts are flooding former members minds while looking at the church standing one last time before construction equipment begins crushing the structure, bricks crumbling to the ground.

“Really keeping our ecclesiastical architecture, religious architecture standing for the next generation of Buffalonians is one of the biggest challenges,” said Jessie Fisher, the Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

The church is just one of a dozen on the demo list due to its unstable state.

“We are really in danger of losing a significant amount of religious architecture which are the anchor institutions of our communities,” said Fisher.

For more than 5 years the building has been at the center of several conversations surrounding demolition, which is the city is fronting the bill for, costing more than $200,000.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t have done $50,000 in repairs five years ago and assess that as a lean against the property,” said Fisher. “Those same funds should be creatively applied when it comes to important buildings like this.”

The building, which has been standing on Sycamore Street since 1907 is suffering from serious damage ranging from the leaking roof, to buckling floorboards.

“It has to go,” said Williams. “It’s dangerous and a threat and there are rats and this and that and all because it wasn’t taken care of.”

“You can see down the road more clearly,” said Mark Mapes, who is in favor of the abandoned building being removed. “We won’t have people avoiding the place because of the falling debris.”

“It’s a sad day in the city of Buffalo and a sad day for this neighborhood,” said Fisher.

Local preservation groups were able to salvage some items like pews and doors. The construction company has agreed to keep the tower intact for now, though Fisher says without a plan for the plot of land, that might be a short sighted decision and it could also come down in the near future.

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