March 12: “Owner of Bethlehem Steel Agreed to Sell Hours Before Demolition Began,” Views of Buffalo, by Mike Puma

Originally published as, “Owner of Bethlehem Steel Agreed to Sell Hours Before Demolition Began” on Views of Buffalo, blog by Mike Puma, March 12, 2013.

Concerned citizens, preservationists, and architecture buffs looked on in horror as wrecking equipment attacked the unique architectural features of the Bethlehem Steel Administration building Friday afternoon. A few quick blows to the ornate façade dashed all hope the building would be saved after months of hard work and countless hours by a group of dedicated people. Demolition was halted briefly after a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued, but resumed after the judge lifted the TRO last Friday.

Initially the demo began at the rear of the building and it appeared as though the demolition crew would work their way to the front. However, when the TRO was lifted the wrecking equipment moved to the front of the building. The crews smashed the large pediments, ripped off the ornate copper trimmed dormers, and punched holes all over the façade.
Unfortunately, I’ve watched many demolitions in WNY and every building was strategically demolished, i.e. starting from front to back or left to right. No other demolition I’ve witnessed began as haphazardly as Bethlehem Steel. The attack on only the architectural features was completely deliberate.
David Torke of fixBuffalo and others were fighting until the last minute to save the iconic structure and talks were going well. He explains, “I met with [the owner] Steven Detweiler at his home Thursday evening, contacted our legal team and with the cooperation of Judge Dillon’s law clerk we scheduled a settlement conference in NYS Supreme Court for the following morning.” Judge Dillion was receptive to the cause and indicated that he would clear his calendar.
“All parties and their respective attorneys agreed to meet, which was the first time Steven Detweiler and Mayor Szymanski had been in the same room. Detweiler already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell. On Friday morning I sat down with the mayor and his father-in-law, Norm LeBlanc the City’s attorney.  During the next 90 minutes they were becoming allies in our struggle to save the building.  However, Steven Detweiler changed the terms, he demanded that we make a $200K, non-refundable deposit and complete all renovations to the building by the end of 2013” said Torke.
“Our attorney, Richard Berger appealed to Detweiler’s business sense and described how long and involved historic reuse planning and renovations often take, but Detweiler’s new demands were non-negotiable. He indicated that his demolition contractor was instructed to clean-up the back of the building and informed us that he’d keep channels open to a potential settlement through the day.”
Just a few hours later, Detweiler’s demolition crew began destroying the administration building with no further contact from Detweiler. The building was not only important to the greater story of America, but should have been important to Lackawanna, because Lackawanna Steel built the city as a company town. It’s not often you get the chance to point to a building and say, “this is why our city exists, this is genesis for us” and now the Steven Detweiler has ensured the people of Lackawanna never can. “What happened three hours later after our meeting was criminal,” Torke continued, “it was cultural rape and people should never forget that Steven Detweiler did this.”

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