Jan 25: “It didn’t have to end this way-Demolition work begins at Bethlehem Steel Building” by Tom Yots, Preservation Buffalo Niagara

Originally published by Preservation Buffalo Niagara, ‘It didn’t have to end this way-Demolition work begins at Bethlehem Steel Building” by Executive Director, Tom Yots, January 25, 2013, in their e-newsletter.

It didn’t have to end this way. After months of debate and fervent activity the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna is coming down. No, indeed, it did not have to end this way. Community activists Dana Saylor and David Torke brought this to the public’s attention in March of 2012 and Lackawanna’s own Danielle Huber with the help of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group provided a vehicle for interested residents to become involved.

In spite of these efforts by the citizenry, the administration and the city council turned their backs on the pleas to allow the building to be saved. Preservation Buffalo Niagara(PBN) spoke on the Certified Local Government program at the community discussion panel that was held in June and brought one of our bike tours out to the site to demonstrate the interest of the public.

PBN also brought in the State Historic Preservation office, first to stop the misuse of Restore New York money set to demolish the building and then to meet with the city and community leaders regarding the Certified Local Government program that would allow Lackawanna to receive lucrative historic preservation grants in return for establishing a preservation ordinance and commission.

The community leaders and the SHPO’s Julian Adams came to that meeting at PBN’s office but the Lackawanna city administration and council were conspicuously absent. Local attorney Bill Magavern, whose family had been connected to Bethlehem Steel a couple of generations back, offered $100,000 of his own money toward the implementation of a plan to save the building.

Still, there was no response from the city or the owner. After conferring with Magavern, PBN contacted the office of the city court judge overseeing the issue as recently as last week to convey the message that Magavern’s offer still stood, and again there was no response from the city.

No, this did not have to end this way. Many people tried to make this work and the public did not object. Instead, there was an outpouring of how much this building meant to people. The comments ranging from words on the significance of its history to heartfelt tributes to its beauty of design and construction showed up regularly in the local media. Many said how many times they had driven by this building and were struck by its timeless beauty and how much it would be missed if it were gone.

Yet in the 30 years it remained vacant, neglected by the owner who had taken over after Bethlehem Steel left the site, no one came forward to advocate for its preservation until the threat was so very real. Here, perhaps, we all have failed by waiting for someone else—a private owner, the municipality, some not-for-profit— to step in and do something to keep it there.

But that did not happen and, instead, it fell victim to neglect and abandonment and, yes, victim to a culture that is not proactive enough to stop these destructive elements before it reaches this point.

Driving down route 5 will not be the same in the future since one of the sites that made people smile will be gone. And, no, it didn’t have to end this way, but it did.


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