March 7: “Judge denies bid to halt demolition of Bethlehem Steel building,” The Buffalo News

Demolition of the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building was allowed to continue today after Appellate Judge Rose Sconiers denied a request for a temporary restraining order by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture.

The group had claimed Gateway Trade Center, which owns the 1901 building, failed to comply with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.

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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.”

Feb 27: Letter of Support from the Preservation League of New York State

Included in the 11 Most Endangered Places nomination submitted to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, March 1, 2013. Read the full nomination here. Thank you to Jay and Tania from the Preservation League of New York State for your much-need/appreciated support!

PLNYS support ltr Bethlehem Steel PLNYS support ltr Bethlehem Steel 2

Feb 21 “Bethlehem Steel Demolition Halted Due to Illegally Issued Demo Permit” Views of Buffalo

Originally published by Mike Puma on Views of Buffalo and Buffalo Rising, “Bethlehem Steel Demolition Halted Due to Illegally Issued Demo Permit,” February 21, 2013.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo successfully filed an Article 78 today, which placed a temporary restraining order on the demolition of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. This petition argues that the City of Lackawanna issued the demolition permit to Gateway Trade Center without performing environmental review as required by the NYS Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).

As a result, the demolition permit issued was done so illegally and is therefore null and void. The Campaign is seeking a permanent injunction on the demolition of the building until full compliance with SEQR is demonstrated. A hearing is scheduled before Hon. James H. Dillon for Wednesday, February 27th at 9:30 a.m.
“SEQR mandates all agencies of government to prepare an ‘Environmental Impact Statement on any action they propose or approve which may have a significant effect on the environment.’ Even actions which do not require a full Impact Statement, still require careful environmental review and findings,” says Richard Berger, Esq., a local attorney representing The Campaign, “It appears that none was carried out in this instance. We hope that our filing today will halt the demolition of the Administration Building and lead to its ultimate restoration and reuse.”
“The City and Gateway should make every attempt to honor workers who spent much of their lives at Bethlehem Steel. Instead, they’re doing all they can to destroy our heritage, and with it the potential that ‘Old North’ has to create jobs and bring people to the shore of Lake Erie. I for one am relieved that there is an engaged group of citizens continuing to fight for justice, and I am proud to stand with them,” said Romaine Lillis, Lackawanna resident and longtime member of the Lackawanna Historical Society.
There is an open lawsuit filed by Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG), heard on February 13, 2013 in Lackawanna City Court, regarding the discovery of a previously withheld structural engineering report concluding that the building is structurally sound and of no immediate danger of collapse, as the City of Lackawanna contends. Hon. Judge Marrano reserved judgment in the case but a verdict is expected soon.
LIHG has stated that they will cooperate with The Campaign for Greater Buffalo in any way needed.
For more information and to stay informed, check out the I’m Steel Standing website. Contact David Torke (fixBuffalo), founding LIHG Member: 716-602-5440 or davidtorke@gmail.com. For additional photos of the building check out David’s Flickr page by clicking here.

Feb 21 “Demo of Bethlehem Steel building halted” WIVB

Originally published by Channel 4, WIVB, “Demo of Bethlehem Steel building halted” on February 21, 2013.

Preservationists have successfully halted the demolition of the former Bethlehem Steel administration building.

Crews moved in to begin to tear down the building after a lawsuit between the City of Lackawanna and the building’s owner ended last year with a judge approving the demolition. Part of the building has already been taken down.

On Thursday, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo announced it has succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order pending a hearing next Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court.

Feb 21 “Court orders halt to demolition at Bethlehem Steel site” The Buffalo News

Originally published by The Buffalo News, “Court orders halt to demolition at Bethlehem Steel site,” February 21, 2013.

A group of preservationists has won a court order that temporarily stops the demolition at the site of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna, pending a hearing Wednesday in State Supreme Court.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo and attorney Richard G. Berger on Thursday won a temporary restraining order from acting State Supreme Court Justice Thomas P. Franczyk that, for now, halts the demolition work that began last month on an addition to the long-vacant structure on Fuhrmann Boulevard.

The building originally was scheduled for demolition in May, when the city obtained a court order forcing owner Gateway Trade Center to tear down the Beaux Arts-style building, which dates to 1901.

A 90-day stay granted in Erie County Court to give Gateway time to explore alternatives for reusing the building expired in November, and the company in December hired Zoladz Construction to perform the demolition.

The contractor on Jan. 24 began tearing down a rear chemical laboratory that was added decades after the original building.

Tim Tielman of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo said his group is seeking a permanent injunction barring further demolition until an environmental review is performed.

Lackawanna City Attorney Norman A. LeBlanc Jr. said Thursday afternoon that he had not yet seen Franczyk’s order but added that no environmental review is required because a City Court judge ordered the demolition after the building was condemned.

Another group of activists, the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, has sued Gateway, arguing that the company hid a structural engineering report filed in August that determined the building was structurally sound.

Feb 21: PRESS RELEASE – Demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Halted; Permit Illegally Issued without Proper Environmental Review

bs_profile* * * FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE * * *
February 21, 2013, 11:00 a.m.

DEMOLITION OF BETHLEHEM STEEL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING HALTED:
DEMO PERMIT WAS ISSUED ILLEGALLY WITHOUT PROPER ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) was pleased to learn that The Campaign for Buffalo – History, Architecture & Culture, Inc. today filed an Article 78 Proceeding in New York State Supreme Court, which placed a temporary restraining order on the demolition of the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna, New York. Their petition maintains that the City of Lackawanna issued a demolition permit to the owner, GATEWAY TRADE CENTER, INC., on December 17, 2012, without performing environmental review as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The suit contends that the demolition permit is therefore a nullity in that it was issued illegally. The Campaign is seeking a permanent injunction on the demolition of the building until full compliance with SEQR is demonstrated. A hearing is scheduled before Hon. James H. Dillon for Wednesday, February 27th at 9:30 a.m.

Richard Berger, Esq., a local attorney with experience in environmental and preservation law, representing The Campaign, stated, “SEQR mandates all agencies of government to prepare an ‘Environmental Impact Statement on any action they propose or approve which may have a significant effect on the environment.’ Even actions which do not require a full Impact Statement, still require careful environmental review and findings. It appears that none was carried out in this instance. We hope that our filing today will halt the demolition of the Administration Building and lead to its ultimate restoration and reuse.”

“The City and Gateway should make every attempt to honor workers who spent much of their lives at Bethlehem Steel. Instead, they’re doing all they can to destroy our heritage, and with it the potential that ‘Old North’ has to create jobs and bring people to the shore of Lake Erie. I for one am relieved that there is an engaged group of citizens continuing to fight for justice, and I am proud to stand with them,” said Romaine Lillis, Lackawanna resident and longtime member of the Lackawanna Historical Society.

There is an open lawsuit filed by LIHG, heard on February 13, 2013 in Lackawanna City Court, regarding the discovery of a previously withheld structural engineering report concluding that the building is structurally sound and of no immediate danger of collapse, as the City of Lackawanna contends. Hon. Judge Marrano reserved judgement in the case but a verdict is expected soon.

LIHG is prepared to cooperate with The Campaign for Greater Buffalo in any way needed.

The imsteelstanding.org website is the best place to stay informed.

Contact David Torke, founding LIHG Member: 716-602-5440 or davidtorke@gmail.com

Feb 13 Lackawanna City Court Hearing, Photo by Brian Pickard [PHOTOS]

Feb 13: “A ’13th hour effort’ to save the Bethlehem Steel building” by Kaitlyn Lionti for YNN

Originally published by YNN, “A ’13th hour effort’ to save the Bethlehem Steel building” by Kaitlyn Lionti, February 13, 2013.

A 13th hour effort to save the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building is how the attorney representing the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group describes what brought them back to City Court on Wednesday.

The group filed a lawsuit Friday against the building’s owners, Gateway Trade Center. They’re asking the judge to vacate his previous order requiring the building be demolished.

“The decision of the city, originally, to seek demolition was done illegally,” said attorney Richard Berger. “New York State Law, the Environmental Equality Review Act, says that every such demolition case requires at least an environmental assessment. In this case, because it’s a building that’s eligible for the state and national registers of historic places, it’s absolutely required.”

But the attorney representing Gateway Trade says the demolition permits were issued long before Berger’s clients heard from the state about the building’s eligibility for the historic registers.

However, Berger says they have another key piece of new information – an engineering report commissioned by Gateway Trade.

“We found out that the, a hidden report that had never been made available before to us, show that the building is structurally sound, and doesn’t need to be demolished,” Berger said.

Gateway Trade’s attorney says the company never meant to keep the report hidden, and says the building might be structurally sound, but it would have to be taken apart to tell.

The judge will render a decision after reviewing documents submitted Wednesday. He says even if he grants the Heritage Group’s request, he can’t stop Gateway Trade from demolishing the building.

But the group says it’s hoping to work with Gateway Trade and the city to find a way to re-use it.

“All that we need is the will. We’ve got the way. We’ve got a team of professionals standing by to work on this project and there’s funding available that’ll cover the cost of that, so there’s no reason this should not move forward in a positive way,” said Dana Saylor, Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group.

The group says it’s waiting to hear from Gateway Trade about the proposal.

Feb 14: “Judge reserves decision in building demolition,” The Buffalo News

Originally published by The Buffalo News, “Judge reserves decision in building demolition,” February 14, 2013.

Preservationists remained cautiously optimistic Wednesday, after Lackawanna City Judge Frederic Marrano reserved decision on a lawsuit that would vacate a previously issued order allowing the demolition of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.

Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, which filed the lawsuit Friday, reiterated its hope to meet with the building’s owner, Gateway Trade Center.

It also announced that a reuse team of real estate, planning and preservation specialists headed by Barbara Campagna, former chief architect for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has been assembled to assist the company if it decides to take advantage of a $500,000 Restore New York grant.

“We remain committed to sitting down with Steven Detwiler at his earliest convenience to help Gateway reposition the building to take advantage of progress being made along the waterfront,” said preservationist David Torke.

Feb 13: “Judge Reserves Decision On Bethlehem Demo” WGRZ

Originally published as “Judge Reserves Decision On Bethlehem Demo” WGRZ Channel 2, February 13, 2o13.

A judge has reserved decision on the latest bid by preservationists to save the former Lackawanna Steel Administration Building from demolition.

An attorney representing the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group appeared before City Court Judge Frederic J. Marrano on Wednesday, to argue there was new information to consider, which had been inaccessible when the same court previously ruled that the demolition of the more than century old landmark, could proceed.

Attorney Richard Berger cited a previously unreleased engineering study, which he claims shows that, despite contentions by the City of Lackawanna that the building was in danger of collapse, it is actually structurally sound.

If that is the case, according to Berger, then the judge should keep the wreckers ball at bay, because the building–which qualifies for historic status, would require a lot more than just a simple demolition permit to raze.

“Under New York State law and the Environmental Quality Review Act, this would require at least an environmental assessment,” said Berger. “In this case, because it’s a building that’s eligible for both state and national registers of historic places it’s absolutely required.”

Berger also says if the structure is not deemed to be in danger of falling down, then it could open the door for hundreds of thousands of preservation dollars from the state to help its owners –Gateway Development– renovate it for an adaptive re-use, if they should so desire.

While demolition had already begun at site, all that’s been taken down thus far has been an outbuilding that once housed a chemistry lab. The actual Beaux Arts administration building, according to Berger, hasn’t been damaged, and is still very much worth saving.

February 13: “Area Citizens Engage Team of Professionals to Rehabilitate Bethlehem Steel Administration Building as they await Ruling from Lackawanna”

* * * FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE * * *

AREA CITIZENS ENGAGE TEAM OF PROFESSIONALS TO REHABILITATE BETHLEHEM STEEL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING AS THEY AWAIT RULING FROM LACKAWANNA

When: Wednesday February 13, 2012  – 12:30pm
Where: Lackawanna City Court – City Hall Steps
Contact Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group: Dana Saylor, (716) 218-8525

The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) has engaged the services of a team of well-respected preservation and planning professionals. The group, funded in part by a private donation, will assist in creating both feasibility and adaptive reuse studies for the 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. Declared structurally sound by an August engineering report, LIHG wants to show the public just what is possible at the site.

They will announce more details during a press conference at 12:30pm outside Lackawanna City Hall on Wednesday, February 13th. This will take place before the 1pm hearing where a City court judge will rule on the lawsuit brought by the group against Gateway Trade.

One of the team members is Barbara Campagna, formerly the Chief Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a board member at the successful Richardson Olmsted Complex. She said, “We will create a plan for near and long-term development of this historic site by combining contemporary ideas and needs with a respect for our 20th century industrial story, providing cultural and economic benefits to the Lackawanna and Buffalo Niagara region residents and a destination for ever-increasing cultural heritage visitors. By preparing a comprehensive Feasibility & Adaptive Reuse Study, we will be using time tested planning tools to develop a responsible and sustainable approach towards the reinvention of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.

The building has everything we need to tell the story of our industrial heritage, connect it to our expanding and dynamic waterfront and demonstrate how preservation is one of the building blocks of economic revitalization in America and in Western New York.  The Richardson Olmsted Complex, the Martin House, Larkinville, the Central Terminal.  These were all places that had languished and deteriorated for decades but are now key to the remaking of Buffalo. Having spent the past 30 years involved in saving and rethinking the Richardson Olmsted Complex, I’m thrilled to have been asked to assist in the visioning of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.”

The LIHG will be pleased to share the group’s findings with the public, which will create jobs and facilitate economic development at this strategically important regional waterfront site.

Feb 9: “I’m Steel Standing in Court: Part I” by fixBuffalo

Originally published by fixBuffalo.blogspot.com, “I’m Steel Standing in Court: Part I” written by David Torke, Feb 9, 2013.

The National Register eligible Bethlehem Steel Administration building in Lackawanna, NY has been under direct threat of demolition since May 2012. Over the course of the summer there were numerous attempts made to broker a deal with the building’s owner, however, those efforts ended unsuccessfully. The City of Lackawanna stayed its course and continued to argue for the building’s demolition. In late January, crews from Zoladz Construction began demolition, starting with the chemistry lab located in the back of the building.

Since then, the area’s preservation groups remained silent as if the building’s fate had been sealed. Preservation Buffalo Niagara issued a statement shortly after demolition began last month. “It didn’t have to end this way,” according to PBN’s Executive Director Tom Yots.

As the demolition began, a small group of activists which included Meagan Baco, Lesley Horowitz, Dana Saylor and myself focused on the next steps in saving this historically significant industrial icon.

Our research uncovered a previously withheld structural engineering report conducted last August by Klepper Hahn & Hyatt. This report was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and confirmed what we’d already suspected through our own photographic documentation: that the building is structurally sound.

The KHH report’s findings directly contradict Lackawanna Code Enforcement Officer Steven Bremer’s own observations and conclusions about the building’s condition.

It is unsafe to come in…the whole building is going to implode. – Steven Bremer Lackawanna Code Enforcement Officer, May 2012

We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at risk of imminent collapse. – Klepper Hahn & Hyatt, August 2012

Within hours of reading the KHH report our group reviewed the case with attorney Richard Berger who advised us that there were grounds for a lawsuit. We proceeded to contact two additional attorneys Michael Raleigh and Paul Fusco-Gessick who were also brought in to work on the case. On Thursday, February 7th we held a press conference announcing our findings and our readiness to file the lawsuit against the building’s owner.

On Friday, February 8th a lawsuit was filed in Lackawanna City Court by attorney Richard Berger. The plaintiff is the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, which was formed last year to raise awareness about the industrial history of Lackawanna NY and the building’s history. The group had previously protested the demolition action and in June held a public hearing on the future of the building with professional preservationists and Lackawanna Common Council President Henry Pirowski as panelists.

Hon. Fredderic Marrano has granted a hearing on the matter which is scheduled for February 13 at 1pm in Lackawanna City Court.

Meanwhile, the Court is allowing the demolition to proceed. This image from February 7, 2013 shows the extent of the current demolition activity. The chemistry lab building is mostly demolished. Here’s the May 2012 record image.

In a related matter Lackawanna resident and activist John Nowak has been protesting the building’s threatened demolition with a hunger strike. He’s been camped out in front of the building since mid December. Members of this group remain tremendously supportive of his efforts and would like to encourage you to come down and speak to him and lend your support in any way you can.

For the latest developments and background information about the lawsuit, the building and the building’s significance please join the FaceBook Group Save the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building and visit I’m Steel Standing the official website for this group’s work.

Additional information:

Mike Puma covered the press conference for Buffalo Rising here and Mark Sommer from the Buffalo News, here.
Here’s the full text of the Memorandum of Law filed with Lackawanna City Court and Order to Show Cause that was signed by Judge Marrano on Friday.

Since breaking the demolition story in May 2012, this blog has covered the story continuously. Many of the links are aggregated here: Bethlehem Steel Public Hearing.

Feb 7: New Eng Report/Law Suit Press Conference [Photos]

Photos by Lisa Willis.

Feb 7 “Group files another suit against Bethlehem Steel owner” Katie Cummings, YNN

Originally published by YNN News, “Group files another suit against Bethlehem Steel owner” by Katie Cummings, February 7, 2013.

Demolition at Bethlehem Steel started in late January, but the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage group wants all demolition at the site to stop until an investigation can take place.

The group plans to file a lawsuit in Lackawanna City Court on Friday morning after it recently received a report on the structural integrity of the building.

“There were several other reports which were presented to the court which said the building is unsafe, it needs to get knocked down, and this report directly contradicts everything that was in there,” said Paul Fusco-Gessick, Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group attorney.

The group says the report was paid for the owner, Gateway Trade, and conducted by a Syracuse-based architectural firm. It states the walls are upright and the overall structure is not at imminent risk of collapse.

Some members of the group say the owner kept the report a secret because it would interfere with state funding.

“That ruined their chances of getting the Restore NY money and they didn’t want to publicize that, they didn’t want anyone else to know because the city wanted to be able to continue its case,” said Dana Saylor.

Preservationists want the building to be saved since they feel it’s a integral part of the area.

“My husband, who passed away just a month ago, worked there for 42 years and he went through this building to get his job and so I think it’s an icon for the city of Lackawanna, we should have this building,” said Romaine Lilli, Lackawanna Historical Society.

“We now have a time to step back and investigate and look at intelligent re-use of the building,” said David Torke.

YNN reached out to Gateway Trade, but calls were not returned. YNN also contacted city of Lackawanna officials but were told no one was available for comment.

Feb 7: “Lawsuit over demo of Bethlehem Steel” WIVB [Video]

Lawsuit over demo of Bethlehem Steel [Link to Video]

Originally published by WIVB.

The fight to save the old Bethlehem Steel administration building is not over, even though part of the building has already been torn down.

The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group is suing the building’s current owners, claiming the Gateway Trade Group withheld an engineering report from the city that said the building is structurally sound and doesn’t need to be demolished.

Attorney Paul Fusco-Gessick said, “There were several other reports which were presented to the court which said the building was unsafe and needed to get knocked down. And this report directly contradicts everything that was in that.”

This lawsuit will officially be filed in City Court on Friday

Feb 7: “Lawsuit Coming For Owners of Bethlehem Steel Building” WGRZ [Video]

The Bethlehem Steel Administration Building might have one last chance Friday to escape the wrecking ball. A lawsuit will be filed Friday against the owners of the building, Gateway Trade.

Preservationists say that a new engineering report directly contradicts other reports that said the buildin

Mayor Szymanski’s assault on our Region’s Heritage

List of quotes originally compiled by Mike Puma, for Buffalo Rising, Uncovered Structural Engineering Report Declares Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Structurally Sound.

I’ve taken the liberty of assembling the best quotes from Mayor Szymanski that illustrate his ignorance and lack of foresight with this grand cathedral of industry:

“It’s time to move on. I think that building is a prime representation of this entire region. It used to be beautiful, it used to be full of work, and now it’s abandoned, unsafe, unused, unwanted and it’s time we got more progressive. Bring down that building, bring down the silos and bring down the grain elevators, and let’s get this city moving,” Szymanski said.
 
Told that the City of Buffalo was beginning to find new uses for its grain elevators, Szymanski answered, “That’s why Buffalo looks like it does.”
 
He also said he didn’t believe a building abandoned for about 30 years and without heat could come back, noting that two structural engineering reports cast doubt on the building’s future.
 
“That building has nothing but sentimental value,” Szymanski said.
From: Judge lifts stay on demolition, -Buffalo News 11/27/12
 
“Pittsburgh adjusted, Cleveland adjusted. Buffalo has not and if we don’t start making moves and start getting rid of stuff that is unusable, than we are going to continue to stay where we’re at, which is nowhere.”
 —
“I am tired of hearing about our glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve what once was as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.”

Feb 7: “Activists sue to save Bethlehem Steel site” The Buffalo News

Originally published by The Buffalo News, “Activists sue to save Bethlehem Steel site,” by Mark Sommer, 2013 02 07.

Activists still fighting to save the embattled Bethlehem Steel Administration Building announced Thursday they are filing a lawsuit today against Gateway Trade Center, contending the company hid a structural engineering report filed in August that concluded the building was structurally sound.

The lawsuit, filed by the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, urges Lackawanna City Court to immediately halt demolition that has begun on a rear chemical laboratory at the site off Route 5 near the Buffalo city line. The demolition ball has not touched the long-vacant 1901 Beaux Arts-style administration building – with its ornate facade – that preservationists have rallied to save.

“With this lawsuit, we’re hoping we can stop the bulldozers and take the time to do a proper investigation and a proper reuse study,” said David Torke, a member of the group.

The report by Klepper Hahn & Hyatt, based in Syracuse, concluded that the administration building was in better shape than previously thought. It stands in contrast to views expressed by Steven Bremer, Lackawanna’s code enforcement officer, and two prior studies in which engineers did not gain access to the building.

The preservationists obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Law request.

“We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse at this time. The collapsing ceilings and abundance of debris observed in the building gives a false illusion of the floors collapsing,” the report said.

It recommended the removal of dormers, parapets, chimneys and other areas in danger of collapse; selective demolition to better gauge the building’s health; and sealing all roof and window openings to keep the elements out.

Torke said the two prior studies had been the “ammunition” used by the City of Lackawanna to push for demolition. He also raised concerns that Parker Bay Engineering, which did the first report concluding the property needed to be torn down, shared office space with Empire Dismantlement, the demolition contractor first hired by Gateway before the Erie County Court-ordered demolition at the city’s request was temporarily stayed from May to November. Zoladz Construction Co. was subsequently hired to perform the demolition.

Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt was chosen by Gateway from a list provided by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which suggested a firm with experience in historic buildings. The agency was required to sign off because Gateway sought a state Restore New York grant, which required the engineering report and a reuse study that never materialized. The company indicated it hoped to use the funds for asbestos removal and possibly demolition.

“Gateway has not only been irresponsible in taking care of the building, but they are asking for state money to continue to shrug their responsibility,” preservationist Meagan Baco said.

Dana Saylor, another preservationist, said she hoped the lawsuit will compel Gateway to follow through on the Restore New York funding requirements and conduct the reuse study.

Feb 7: Uncovered Structural Engineering Report Declares Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Structurally Sound; Buffalo Rising

Originally published by Buffalo Rising, “Uncovered Structural Engineering Report Declares Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Structurally Sound” by Mike Puma, 2013 02 07.

The fight is far from over in Lackawanna to save the Bethlehem Steel Administration building. Although demolition at the rear of the building started two weeks ago, it has been halted for the last six days for unknown reasons. So far only the small chemistry lab, which was a later addition, has been demolished. The remainder of the structure remains standing.

New evidence has come to light that the building is in fact structurally sound despite the consistent information to the contrary by the owners of the building, Gateway Trade Center and the mayor of Lackawanna, Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski. Both have insisted that structural and engineering reports for the building have deemed it structurally unsound.

This independent report was withheld from the courts by the City of Lackawanna and the Gateway Trade Center owner, Steven Detwiler. The truth has been revealed thanks to the perseverance of members in the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG), Meagan Baco, David Torke, Lesley Horowitz, and Dana Saylor. Additionally, they received help from two attorneys who are new to Buffalo, Michael Raleigh and Paul Fusco-Gessick. The structural report was obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request.

The full structural report that was completed by Klepper, Hahn, & Hyatt on August 3, 2012 reveals a different story than the owners and the mayor have been peddling; the building is in fact, structurally sound. To read the full report, click here.

The report details the existing condition of the building and notes the limitations of the study, but ultimately concluded, “We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse at this time. The collapsing ceilings and abundance of debris observed in the building gives a false illusion of the floors collapsing.” It went on to say, “the steel beams have surface rust however we did not observe major scaling or failure of the major structural elements” and “we did not observe large areas of the floor or roof structure that appeared to be on the verge of collapse.”Once again, the full report can be read by clicking here.

While there were two other engineering reports completed that claim the building is not structurally sound, this report is the only one where the consultants were allowed inside the building for their review, giving them the most comprehensive look at the structure that anyone has had thus far.

With this new information in hand, the LIHG (plaintiff) has brought a lawsuit against the owner at Gateway Trade Center, Steven Detweiler (defendant) to halt all demolition until an investigation can take place.

Jan 24: First Day of Demolition by Brian Pickard [Video]

Jan 25: Bethlehem Steel back in the Spotlight (Support for Healthcare for Former Workers), WKBW

Originally published by WKBW Channel 7, “Bethlehem Steel Back in the Spotlight” by Jason Gruenauer, January 25, 2013.

Bethlehem Steel shut its doors in 1983, but its issues persist to this day.

Congressman Brian Higgins continued his fight for former workers on Friday, some who were exposed to radiation while working at the plant. He spoke at a meeting of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, and says the federal government needs to show proof it cleaned up the uranium being rolled at the plant or pay up to those deserving workers.

“The fact of the matter is people have been wronged. They should have been made aware of the exposure, if they were back when it occurred, perhaps precautions could have been made to mitigate the health effects of that,” Higgins said.

In 2010, more than 200 million dollars was paid out to a class of workers employed at the plant from 1949-1952. Now Higgins wants to include all workers who may have been exposed through 1976.

“People unbeknown to them were exposed to something the federal government was responsible for. So it’s really not a question of how much it costs in the end, it’s a question of economic justice,” Higgins added.

Anyone who believes they may have been affected is asked to contact Congressman Higgins’ office. For email and phone listings, head to this site http://higgins.house.gov/contact/.

Meanwhile, just down the road a long standing symbol of Bethlehem Steel has begun to come down. And as crews work on demolition of the administration building, one single protestor remains camped out since last Wednesday, continuing to fight for preservation.

“I just wish someone would step in and give it a reprieve, it deserves it. It is our history, it is our legacy, it is our heritage for Western New York,” protestor John Nowak said.

Virtual Tour of Bethlehem Steel Building by BuffaloVR.com [Link]

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.

Jan 25: “Razing of Bethlehem Steel building begins, but preservationists to continue fight” WBFO

Originally published as “Razing of Bethlehem Steel building begins, but preservationists to continue fight” by WBFO 88.7am, Buffalo’s NPR News Station, by Eileen Buckley, January 25, 2013.

Despite efforts by area preservationists over the last nine months, demolition of the former Bethlehem Steel Administration building in Lackawanna started Thursday. But members of Buffalo’s Young Preservationists say they are not giving up on trying to save the structure.

Preservationist Dana Saylor tells WBFO News although work is underway to tear down the structure, the group will continue to protest to save part of the building.

“Until that facade comes down, we’re not done. And even when that happens, we still are going to be following the money trail. We want to see what the demolition contractors made from this deal,” Saylor said.

Saylor admits preservationists have little legal recourse at this point unless improper demolition practices or asbestos disposals are witnessed.

Citizens working to save the building say Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski and Gateway Trade, which owns the building, has refused to listen to their concerns in stopping the wrecking ball.

“We have asked them to come to the table numerous times and there was never really a genuine attempt to do that,” said Saylor.

“[Szymanski] never asked for community input. He just went ahead and did it. Even when we handed him 600 local signatures from the petition, he still refused to come to the table,” she added.

Preservationists say the 1901 building is eligible for both state and national registers of historic places.

Jan 24: Demolition begins at Bethlehem Steel, The Buffalo News [Photos]

Jan 24 – Bethlehem Steel Demolition Begun: Citizens Gather at “Cathedral of Industry”, Protest Failure of Leadership, Lost Opportunity

Original press release by Dana Saylor, Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, posted by Mike Puma on Buffalo Rising, January 24, 2013, http://www.buffalorising.com/2013/01/bethlehem-steel-demolition-begun-citizens-gather-at-cathedral-of-industry-protest-failure-of-leaders.html.

The 1901 Beaux Arts-style Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company Administration Building (later known as the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building) is currently falling to the wrecking ball, despite the efforts of local citizens who have spoken out for its adaptive reuse. The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) has learned that Gateway Trade TURNED DOWN several offers of developers to take control of the property, after allowing them to tour the site. Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski refused to listen to the concerns of local citizens, from whom over 600 petition signatures were gathered.

He could have rescinded the City of Lackawanna’s demolition order at any time, but instead, he maintained his entrenched position though the structure poses no threat to public safety. The building is eligible for both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and was recently nominated as a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. LIHG members and the public will gather at the site to document this needless destruction, carried out by Zoladz Contracting and others.

Since the city has no preservation ordinance, though, the fate of the building rests solely in the mayor’s hands. Recently, he declared in The Buffalo News, “it’s time we got more progressive. Bring down that building.” LIHG sees the mayor’s actions as anything but progressive, considering the lost potential this demolition signifies. It has been proven that preservation activities promote economic development, vitality, and sustainable urban growth. The young, educated people moving into Western New York and other historic areas have been shown to do so because of the wealth of history, unique architecture, low cost of living and heritage tourism this region offers.

“It is these attitudes that have caused Lackawanna to decline and make it all the more difficult for the city to ever rise up again,” says Danielle Huber, chair of the LIHG. “We should be building on our strengths, not wiping them out.” Dana Saylor, historian and member of Buffalo’s Young Preservationists agreed, saying, “Adaptive reuse was economically feasible and would have been an excellent way to tie in all the waterfront investment happening along Lake Erie. Now, the area will suffer from the loss of potential that preservation activities would have brought to this site. Interesting redeveloped places like the Hotel@Lafayette and Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, P.A. are a draw!”

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo advised and assisted LIHG along the way, with Executive Director Tim Tielman, who said “Without a preservation ordinance in place, Lackawanna will continue to demolish its historic landmarks under the short-sighted policies of its government. The City must move to become a Certified Local Government, and institute a preservation board so what is happening to Bethlehem Steel, and what happened to St. Barbara’s, will not befall other important places.”

Citizens are encouraged to contact the Mayor of Lackawanna’s office, and the building owners: Gateway Trade, get involved in future preservation activism, and consider a contribution to a local preservation organization of their choice. Members of the public, especially former employees of the company, are invited to witness the demolition this week, and speak out.

 

Jan 25 “An Outrage in Lackawanna” Buffalo Spree

Originally published by Buffalo Spree, “An Outrage in Lackawanna” by Elizabeth Licata, January 25, 2013.

Photo by Joe Cascio.

Photo by Joe Cascio.


As it looked in the summer of 2011.
In what universe does a magnificent structure like this get thrown into a landfill? Imagine if this building were located in the Elmwood Village area or in Parkside. Given the fact that lesser endangered structures throughout the city have been preserved and reused, I feel confident that the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building (aka North Office) never would have been allowed to reach such a deplorable impasse in 21st century Buffalo. Maybe I am naïve, but I am treating this as a tragically unfortunate throwback to a stupider time.

In any case, as I write this, the North Office is being demolished, starting at the rear of the building.

We wrote about the North Office and its central role in Buffalo’s early steel industry in September, 2011. Since at least that time, local preservation activists have been raising awareness of its plight with meetings, press conferences, petitions, and outreach to the owners and city officials, all apparently to no avail.

The astoundingly unenlightened mayor of Lackawanna, NY must think he’s living in the bulldozer-happy fifties and sixties. With absolutely no future plan for the empty site from owners Gateway Trade and zero outreach to possible developers—in fact, it now appears that developers were actively discouraged—Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski has ordered that Gateway demolish the North Office. Why he’s in such a hurry to get rid of a structure that isn’t posing any kind of threat is anybody’s guess.

I have visited the building several times, though I’ve never been inside. It does not seem to endanger public safety—its location alone makes that unlikely. It’s anybody’s guess as to why it urgently needs to be taken down.

The possible reuses for this structure include many nonprofit and commercial options—its incredible architecture details would be a fitting counterpoint to the scenic beauty that is finally unfolding along the outer harbor as walks and parks are gradually added to the formerly bleak expanse. It will take a while to make the outer harbor a suitable place for recreation and commerce, but the North Office could have played a major role. Given time, imagination, and resources, this building could have become …

We’ll never know.

Architectural Details of Bethlehem Steel by Chrissy Lincoln [Video]

Jan 19 “Beth Steel Slomo” [Video]

Jan 20 “A chilly crusade for a doomed landmark” by The Buffalo News

Originally published by The Buffalo News; “A chilly crusade for a doomed landmark.” by Denise Jewell Gee, 2013 01 20.

An icy wind sliced through John Nowak’s blue nylon tent.

It was Day 3 and 22 degrees. A thin layer of snow covered the sidewalk outside the shuttered Bethlehem Steel administration building. Nowak’s lonely tent listed in the wind.

Nowak had been camping outside the building for three days, and he hoped to stick out the frigid nights as long as he could in one last push to save it from demolition. His protest involved a couple of sleeping bags, a few blankets and the occasional warm-up in his 1993 Cadillac Seville.

Nowak wanted to draw attention to the plight of the 111-year-old building. I wanted an answer to a question: What drives someone to camp out in bone-chilling temperatures for a boarded-up building that has sat empty for years?

It was easy to write off Nowak’s sidewalk camping campaign as a bit on the dotty side. The wind whipped by. He shoved his bare hands into his jeans pockets. The temperature overnight had dipped to 14 degrees.

Surely, there are easier avenues on which to wage a preservation fight. There are letters and petitions. Phone calls and email. But those had already been done by a group trying to save the building, and Nowak had struck on a tactic just odd enough for people zipping by on Route 5 to take notice.

“I’m just trying to bring attention to this beautiful building, the design. The copper craftsmanship on top is exquisite, the stonework above the windows,” said Nowak, dressed in heavy boots, three layers of sweaters under a Columbia jacket and a wool cap. “All of it is a work of art.”

Unfortunately, it’s a work of art headed for destruction after decades of neglect. Once the administrative center of the city’s steel giant, it’s slated for court-ordered demolition after Lackawanna determined it was unsafe.

This is not Nowak’s first crusade for the Bethlehem Steel site. Back in the early ’90s, he carried a placard to protest a proposal to build a tire-burning energy plant on the property.

What really burns Nowak is the city’s lack of waterfront. “It’s completely shut off,” Nowak said. “There’s been no public access for Lackawanna for 100 years.”

Nowak, 47, runs a lawn-care business in the summer. When he gave up snowplowing, it left his winter days free. It also left a lot of free time to dream about what the waterfront could be. He’s drawn up a sprawling vision to turn the hundreds of acres of former Bethlehem land into a waterfront park with a stadium, condos and more. 

It’s a dream. The land is privately owned, and Nowak is just one citizen expressing his hopes.

Already, though, his small crusade outside the Beaux Arts-style building is drawing attention. Television crews came to interview him. A woman stopped to see what she could do.

Some people have campaign donations and political juice. But a guy like Nowak? He needs another tactic to get the attention of politicians.

Can his camp-out save the building? It’s not likely, but who knows? 

“If it happens, it just happens,” Nowak said of the demolition. “All we can do is try our best. That’s why I’m out here. This is the last effort.”

He won’t be standing in the way of the demolition trucks. He conceded that high winds might force him to go home. But that won’t stop him from dreaming about what the waterfront could be. 

Jan 17: Lonely Vigil at Beth Steel Building Facing Demolition, WGRZ

Originally published by WGRZ, “Lonely Vigil at Beth Steel Building Facing Demolition.”

If you drive the Skyway, you may have noticed the old Bethlehem Steel Administration building, that is slated to be demolished, is still standing.

That building remains intact for now despite all the predictions and expectations over the past few weeks that demolition would get underway.

It probably will happen at some point. But for now it is all quiet at the location on Fuhrmann Boulevard. There are excavators parked nearby and a contractor’s construction site trailer.

But right now the only person there is John Nowak who is a member of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage preservation group.

He has set up this tent and brought his sleeping bag and other supplies to weather the cold near the lake while he stages his lonely vigil and protest.

And he is determined to stay for now even at the risk of getting arrested. Nowak says police said it might happen but they have apparently accepted his presence for now.

Nowak says he would like to see the front portion and façade of the building saved for possible use as a museum or office space as part of a waterfront development plan. But he says he does not know if any developer would step forward to save it.

As for the actual demolition, we determined there was some asbestos abatement in the building. But there are still some issues to be resolved for the demolition contractor to really start tearing it down.

There is still a court order in place obtained by the City of Lackawanna for the building site owner Gateway to tear it down.

City officials say preservationists don’t realize how unstable and dangerous the building really is.

Fact: The State Historic Preservation Office has determined Bethlehem Steel structurally sound

Jan 11 National Trust for Historic Preservation shares I’m Steel Standing with 35k+ Facebook friends!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has just shared our story to nearly 40, 000 of their Facebook followers in support of I’m Steel Standing and the preservation of the Bethlehem Steel building!

“Preservation words of wisdom needed! Over the past few months, a grassroots group of Buffalonians has braved the winter elements to help save the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building, a 1901 Beaux Arts masterpiece now slated for demolition. This week, fencing went up and crews started moving in.

What advice do you have for preservation battles that are entering their 11th hour? Share it in a comment and wish our Buffalo friends good luck on Twitter using #imsteelstanding. Also, visit http://imsteelstanding.org/ to learn more about this beautiful building.”

National Trust Collage

Jan 10: “Bethlehem Steel, Going Going Gone?” Buffalo Rising

Originally published by Buffalo Rising, “Bethlehem Steel, Going Going Gone?” by David Steele.

Based on recent activity witnessed around the old Bethlehem Steel North building on Route 5 in Lackawanna it looks as if the structure is likely to be demolished within the next few days. New fencing has gone up and heavy equipment has been moved in. This is a major piece of Western New York history – American history actually.  It is going to be thoughtlessly destroyed. Much of Buffalo and WNY was built from activity conducted within this building.  The United States won the war in Europe and Japan in no small part due to what was done inside this building.  It is important historically and it is important for its architectural craft and beauty but it will be destroyed because of small thinking.

The mayor of the City of Lackawanna, Geoffrey Szymanski, has been quoted by the Buffalo News saying that demolition is progress.  Perhaps he gets this belief from the “progress” exhibited along the city’s main thoroughfare, Ridge Road.  That once bustling street of shops and institutions is now a bland, gap-toothed poster child for the mayor’s form of progress. The Lackawanna progress that the mayor promotes leads to basically nothing of any worth from what I can see.  The recently cleared St. Barbara’s Church site is now an extravaganza of progress in the form of an empty grassy lot.  The corner across the street from the magnificent Our Lady of Victory Basilica once held a busy commercial building that was removed for the progressive use of surface parking. What is a great landmark building without surrounding it with asphalt, right? Progress Lackawanna style will now add more nothingness to this once mighty industrial city.  In the warped logic of today’s throw-away America nothing = progress.
Get down there to the building while you can so you can see what Lackawanna had before progress came along. Document it for future generations as thoroughly as you can.
Want to help save what is left of Buffalo and Western New York?  You can start by letting Mayor Szymanski know what you think of his form of progress. You can also connect with like minded people on the Preservation Ready Sites FaceBook and join Preservation Buffalo Niagara or The Campaign for Greater Buffalo http://greaterbuffalo.blogs.com  There is no gain to WNY in allowing delinquent owners and shortsighted small minded municipalities to continue stealing our unique and irreplaceable heritage. Tear down for real progress and I am with you but let’s not pretend that anything of substance is coming to the glorious Lackawanna waterfront once the Bethlehem Steel office building is taken to the garbage dump.

Jan 10: Words from Photographer Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America

By Matthew Christopher, adandonedamerica.org“Completed in 1901, this Beaux-Arts masterpiece would become the administration building for Bethlehem Steel’s mill in Lackawanna, NY. During the 1940’s this was the largest steel mill in the United States, but little is left of its enormous campus now. Following the mill’s closure in 1982, much of the site was razed and this administration building wound up in the ownership of Gateway Trade Center.

By all accounts, GTC cares very little for the history of the area and for efforts to preserve the building. They have left it open to the elements for nearly two decades and rejected proposals from interested developers and preservation groups that have tried to save the building. It seems clear that their intention all along has been to let the building fall apart until it is no longer salvageable and then tear it down. While there are areas of the roof and interior that have deteriorated badly the facade is salvageable and I have seen many projects where buildings in this condition are restored, much to the benefit of the community and culture around it.

GTC appears to have got its wish, however, as demolition may begin as early as today on this site despite a fierce battle by preservationists in the area who would like to keep even a small part of the mill’s history alive for future generations. If you would like to aid their efforts please visit their website http://imsteelstanding.org/ – they desperately need support not through finances but in merely making phone calls on its behalf to demand that the demolition permits are revoked and this iconic site is kept. “

Dec 29: Photos by Julie Carroll

National Press! “Bethlehem Steel history may be obliterated in Lackawanna, NY,” The Morning Call, Lehigh Vally, PA

Originally published by The Morning Call, newspaper of Lehigh Valley, PA, “Bethlehem Steel history may be obliterated in Lackawanna, NY” by Paul Carpenter.

 

Without the preservation of physical mementos, we are lost. We cannot know who we are unless we can see and touch the remnants of the key events in our past.

America would be diminished without Independence Hall, Boston’s Old North Church, the Liberty Bell (rescued from the Redcoats when hidden in Allentown), the Declaration of Independence, or our consecrated battlefield sites — from the redoubts of Yorktown to the High Water Mark at Gettysburg.

It even was necessary to preserve things like the little $180 house where Elvis Presley was born 78 years ago in Tupelo, Miss., and a monument where the lives of Bonnie and Clyde ended 71/2 months earlier in Gibsland, La.

Americans need such relics so we do not wander around like amnesiacs, with no sense of who we are or how we got here.

 

One of the most important monuments to American history is in Bethlehem — a row of towering blast furnaces from the flagship plant of Bethlehem Steel, one of the most famous and vital establishments when it came to building the world’s most formidable nation.

It was Bethlehem Steel that gave the Golden Gate Bridge its backbone, provided armor for the ships and tanks that overcame Axis tyranny, and made us and our infrastructure strong in countless other ways. Our hearts and souls may have been molded at Independence Hall, but our sinews and spines were molded by Bethlehem Steel.

It’s a bit sad that the blast furnaces of that flagship plant are now illuminated by a sleazy gambling casino complex, but at least those furnaces still stand for posterity. Far sadder is what’s happening to Bethlehem Steel’s most awesome plant ever, its colossal industrial complex at Lackawanna, N.Y.

When I was a little boy, that was the world’s greatest steel plant. Its blast furnaces and other components were visible from where I lived and when they dumped slag into Lake Erie at night, it lit up the sky.

My father, my grandfather, most of my uncles and my brother worked there at one time or another, and driving (for miles) past that plant on our way to downtown Buffalo was always astounding.

As the week began, there remained only one part of the vast Lackawanna plant still standing. It was the plant’s administration building, called a “beaux-arts masterpiece” for decades after it was built in 1901, when the manufacturing site was still known as Lackawanna Iron & Steel. (It was bought by Bethlehem Steel in 1922.) I have vivid memories of that building.

As you’re reading this today, demolition already may have begun, despite desperate efforts by preservationists to save it.

“It’s time we got more progressive,” Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski was quoted as saying last month. “Bring down that building … and let’s get this city moving.” Szymanski and others in city hall did not get back to me when I called to ask about the reasons for pushing demolition.

In any case, the property is in the hands of commercial interests who have no motive to preserve artifacts of the past, much to the dismay of groups like the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, headed by Danielle Huber of Lackawanna.

“There’s not much left here in Lackawanna,” Huber told me the other day by telephone. “It’s unfortunate that [Szymanski] does not see the benefit.”

In Bethlehem, there’s a different story.

Tony Hanna, executive director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, which has handled development of the local plant’s site, including the casino and other attractions, pointed out Thursday that there are some interesting similarities to the Lackawanna site.

The flagship plant, he noted, had two administrative buildings, including one now serving as part of Northampton Community College. The other, now vacant, was once Bethlehem Steel’s corporate headquarters and was symbolically constructed in the shape of an I-beam. That was in 1904, three years after the iconic administrative building in Lackawanna.

Hanna, observing that I’m not always generous in comments about gambling casinos, including the one at the center of the projects his authority advanced, stressed that the Bethlehem casino had much to do with the preservation of the flagship plant’s blast furnaces and other structures.

I am not opposed to the legalization of gambling casinos, as long as nobody makes me patronize one, but I have been ferociously opposed to the way the gambling industry was accommodated by politicians, especially in Harrisburg, and the way casinos have been licensed and regulated.

After talking to Hanna, however, I was encouraged by what he said.

“It’s a gorgeous building,” he said of the old I-beam headquarters in the Lehigh Valley. “It’s one of the most significant buildings on the site. … It will never be torn down here in Bethlehem.”

The gambling casino, Hanna added, “really did go a long way toward helping us preserve those buildings.”

So I must give the devil his due. What happened in Bethlehem is far better than what happened in Lackawanna.

I just hope it never turns out that the only way to preserve Independence Hall will be to allow a gambling joint right next to it.

paul.carpenter@mcall.com 610-820-6176

Paul Carpenter‘s commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“Grand old buildings have a story to tell” by Erin St. John Kelly, OpEd for The Buffalo News

Originally published as, “Grand old buildings have a story to tell,” by Erin St. John Kelly, OpEd for The Buffalo News, January 1, 2013.

I bring everyone who visits me in Buffalo on a tour of its vestigial heavy industry – the grain-storing and shipping, steel-smelting, car-making Buffalo. I love its earnest heart. The grand finale of the tour is a Beaux Arts columned building of stone, marble and copper that lies on the shore of Lake Erie at the edge of town, where it turns into Lackawanna.

I felt like the building was a secret. It is behind a chain-link fence, surrounded by overgrown bushes. It seemed forgotten, so I wasn’t worried about it going anywhere between my tours. I didn’t know it had a name, or what purpose it once had.

Mystery revealed. It’s the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building. I know this because Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski wants to demolish it. Recently, a court order was lifted giving the green light for demolition. What an awful way to kick off 2013 for Buffalo architecture. Panicked preservationists are picketing, petitioning and begging him not to do it. My only hope is that Rep. Brian Higgins will see the beauty and possibility in saving Bethlehem Steel to make it a part of the waterfront development he supports.

Buildings tell stories about “when” and “how” and, perhaps most essentially, “why” a place is. A city’s children need to know, its immigrants need to know, its visitors and regular citizens need to know about the hard work and great wealth that built this place so they can know what’s possible. History is inspiration.

Buffalo, Lackawanna and Niagara Falls have downtowns like once handsome faces smashed and flattened. There are gaping holes like punched-out teeth in once tight rows of houses and stores. Entire blocks are flat and weedy. Over the last 50 years, they have been cleared in the name of progress, which turned into buildings not built and parking lots for cars not coming.

It doesn’t have to go this way. In the two years I have lived here, two grand hotels that had been horrible embodiments of decline have been reopened. Their renovations have begun to revive the area and general optimism about the city. It can be done with Bethlehem Steel.

A year ago, Buffalo hosted the National Preservation Conference. Tourists and preservationists roamed the city praising its architecture. Szymanski stubbornly refuses to entertain any plan but immediate demolition for Bethlehem Steel. Sadly, he can’t picture a grand public space where the citizens of his town once lined up to get their paychecks. But preservationists can. We have real reuse plans. We need the government to help us.

The owners of Pennsylvania-based New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co. were allowed to let the building deteriorate to the point that it is forcing a demolition. I hope someone has the imagination to see his name on a plaque, to create a legacy for his family name and for Western New York.

One of Buffalo’s great shames is the 1950 demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building. But it also has some significant saves, like Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building. Even children gasp at its ornate engravings and carvings of terra cotta and copper. That building is on a different tour I give, one I’d like to be able to add the Bethlehem Steel Building to. The field where the Larkin Building’s broken pieces were dumped and buried is on the way to the Bethlehem Steel Building. Please help so that my tour’s grand finale isn’t a similar site in Lackawanna.

Dec 29 “Preservationists Protest Bethlehem Steel Demolition” WGRZ [Link]

Dec 29 Rally for Common Sense, Brian Pickard [Video]

Dec 29 Rally for Common Sense [Video]

Dec 2: “Demolition paves path to ‘progress'”, Donn Esmonde, The Buffalo News

Originally published in the Buffalo News, “Demolition paves path to ‘progress’“, by Donn Esmonde (desmonde@buffnews.com), December 2, 2012.

Here I was, thinking the joys of preservation are understood by everyone. Along comes Geoffrey Szymanski, shattering my illusions.

The Lackawanna mayor’s throwback attitude makes it seem like the last 20 years never happened. It’s as if he lives in Latvia, not Lackawanna.

Across the city line in Buffalo stands a collection of reclaimed buildings – and the rents, jobs and visitors they bring – longer than Eloise’s Christmas list. From The Mansion on Delaware to the Hotel @ the Lafayette, from the Statler to the Larkin at Exchange, the benefits of revival are impossible to ignore.

The good news from the neighboring city has apparently not reached the mayor’s office. Szymanski is leading the charge to obliterate Lackawanna’s 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration building. The striking three-story structure off Route 5 is the best remnant of the steel giant’s once-massive footprint. Abandoned for decades, it will – barring intervention – come down by week’s end.

Given what preservation has done for Buffalo, you would expect Szymanski to call a halt; to insist on a reuse study before a brick is touched. Instead, the mayor sounds like he’s ready to drive the bulldozer. 

“It’s time we got more progressive,” Szymanski told The News. “Bring down that building, bring down … the grain elevators, and let’s get this city moving.”

Moving to where – Blandville?

Why stop with the Bethlehem building and the grain elevators? Why not just demolish any evidence of the city’s character, history and sense of place? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that old Basilica that a few whacks from a wrecking ball wouldn’t cure.

But seriously: Demolishing an iconic building without so much as a reuse study is like a conviction without a trial. Buffalo’s historic Trico complex will likely be partly saved because of a redevelopment report.

Szymanski does not need a passport or a plane ticket to see how restoration revitalized Buffalo’s downtown. Yet still he confuses demolition with “progress.” Meanwhile, Buffalo’s past is paving the way for its future.

I know that it usually is easier to knock down a grand old building than to save it. But at what cost? 

The first step in any place’s recovery is embracing and preserving its identity. The empty Bethlehem building is not an embarrassing symbol of decline. It is emblematic of the place which produced the steel for everything from the WWII battleships that obliterated tyranny to the vehicles that powered America’s auto industry. What’s not to be proud of?

Buffalo discovered that its stock of great old buildings – converted to everything from hotel rooms to apartments to offices – are assets, not eyesores. It is the edge we have over faceless Sun Belt burgs, with their endless strip malls, cookie-cutter suburban tracts and Lego-like downtowns. Our convention bureau built its marketing pitch around it.

“We present Buffalo and create a ‘brand’ based on its authentic American assets,” said Ed Healy of Visit Buffalo Niagara. “A big part of that is our architecture and culture.”

The same historic tax credits that revived Buffalo’s Lafayette Hotel could help to salvage the Bethlehem building. Why the rush to the wrecking ball? 

Lose an iconic building, gain a vacant lot. In Lackawanna, it passes for progress.

 

Nov 28 “Judge Upholds Demo Order for Bethlehem Bldg” WGRZ

Originally published by WGRZ, “Judge Upholds Demo Order for Bethlehem Bldg” by Dave McKinley, 2012 11 28.

LACKAWANNA, NY – Erie County Court Judge Kenneth Case has upheld a demolition order, clearing the way for the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building to be razed.

Preservationists are left disappointed but “not surprised” with the judge’s order which denied a stay of demolition, according to Dana Saylor, a local historian and member of the Buffalo Young Preservationists group.

Saylor and members of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) still delivered petitions to Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski on Tuesday afternoon , in hopes of convincing him that many are interested in saving the structure.

An event hosted by the group last Sunday called “I’m Steel Standing”, drew nearly 100 local residents and former employees to the site, as part of push for an adaptive reuse similar to those undertaken in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which had been the headquarters of Bethlehem Steel until 1995.

Online and paper petitions have been circulated (with over 500 signatures gathered), a website has been built, which received over 2,000 visits in less than a week, a short film was made, and a whirlwind of media attention has been focused on the building, which is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to Saylor, LIHG seeks to build consensus, and has presented several adaptive reuse ideas, connected the owners (Gateway Industries) to historic tax credit specialists, and is willing to be the conduit to potential developers.

LIHG is calling on the City to relinquish its efforts to force demolition, and rather to pursue Certified Local Government status, which will open the doors for grant money and a meaningful dialogue about preservation’s economic development benefits. LIHG asks GatewayTrade to issue a formal Request for Proposals, and properly board up the building in the meantime.

Bad Breaking News: Judge lifts stay of demolition on former Bethlehem Steel building

Originally published by the Buffalo News, “Judge lifts stay of demolition on former Bethlehem Steel building,” by Mark Sommers, 2012 11 27.

The former Bethlehem Steel administration building in Lackawanna moved closer to demolition today after an appeal was rejected by an Erie County Court judge.

A 90-day stay had been issued by Judge Kenneth F. Case to give time to Gateway Trade Center, the building’s owner, to explore alternatives to demolition.

But in Case’s courtroom today, no alternatives were presented by the company’s lawyer, who also didn’t dispute the City of Lackawanna’s contention – rejected by preservationists – that the building was not salvageable.

Instead, the attorney for Gateway – a subsidiary of New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co. of New Enterprise, Pa. – argued that demolition was costly and that more time was needed. The city’s attorney argued that was not its concern.

Case said he had no alternative but to uphold the order of demolition obtained earlier by the City of Lackawanna.

Gateway had been in discussions with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to develop a plan and prepare a full structural analysis of the three-story, Beaux Arts-style 1901 building, with its ornate facade that includes graceful columns and decorative Corinthian pilasters, pediments and dormers.

Preservationists have urged that the decaying building be saved for its architectural and historic value as an iconic building from the region’s industrial era.

Press Release: Beth Steel Deadline/Petition Delivery Today!

The “I’m Steel Standing” event last Sunday outside of the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building, drew nearly 100 local residents and former employees to the historic site. For several months now, the push has been on to engage local residents in an intense campaign of increasing support for the landmark’s adaptive reuse. Online and paper petitions have been circulated (with over 500 signatures gathered), a website has been built, which received over 2,000 visits in less than a week, a short film was made, and a whirlwind of media attention has been focused on the building, which is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

With Judge Kenneth Case set to issue a decision on the stay of demolition in Erie County Court Tuesday morning, the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) is continuing to speak out, and canvass local neighborhoods. Petition signatures will be delivered to Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski on Tuesday, November 27th. LIHG will meet in front of Lackawanna City Hall, 714 Ridge Road at 3pm, and the media and public are invited.

Despite the fact that the State Historic Preservation Office has declared the building structurally sound, this important part of our cultural heritage is under threat of demolition by both the City of Lackawanna, and its private owners, Gateway Trade. LIHG seeks to build consensus, and has presented several adaptive reuse ideas, connected the owners to historic tax credit specialists, and is willing to be the conduit to potential developers. LIHG is calling on the City to relinquish its efforts to force demolition, and rather to pursue Certified Local Government status, which will open the doors for grant money and a meaningful dialogue about preservation’s economic development benefits. LIHG asks Gateway Trade to issue a formal Request for Proposals, and properly board up the building in the meantime.

For more information, please contact the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group at (716-253-7775), visit http://www.imsteelstanding.org  or email info@oldtimeroots.com.

I’m Steel Standing by Brian Mihok [Video]

Context: Nov 19 “Rail switch may spur Lackawanna redevelopment” Buffalo Business First

Originally published by Buffalo Business First, “Rail switch may spur Lackawanna redevelopment“, by Jim Fink 2012 11 19.

Large portions of the former Bethlehem Steel property could be ready for major, private-sector investments in the next few years, thanks to relocating a short line rail line that services much of the land.

A complex multi-party agreement, with legal documents as thick as two Manhattan phone books, has cleared the way for the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to move ahead with long-stated plans of moving an existing South Buffalo Railway line back from its current location along the edges of Route 5 and deeper into the Bethlehem Steel property. The relocated line will open an estimated 400 acres of prime real estate and allow groups like the ECIDA and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise as well as commercial brokerage firms to market the property.

The Bethlehem Steel property has already landed one new tenant — Canadian-based Welded Tube Inc., that next year hopes to open a speciality steel making plant there next year that could employ as many as 125 workers.

“It took a lot of negotiations and it took a lot of parties to get everything on the table,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “We not only got it done, but we are returning steelmaking to the Bethlehem property.”

The site work is being handled by Zoldaz Construction, the lowest of seven bidders, while the rail work is being done by Syracuse-based Frank Tartaglia Inc., the lowest of six bidders.

All of the rail work should be completed by next fall.

Inspiration “Historic Scranton furnaces eyed as heart of new Iron District” The Times Tribune

Originally published by The Times Tribune, “Historic Scranton furnaces eyed as heart of new Iron District,” by Jim Lockwood (jlockwood@timesshamrock.com), 2012 11 13.

The historic Scranton Iron Furnaces, which helped forge the Industrial Revolution, now could have a bustling future as the heart of a new “Iron District” in the city.

That’s the vision of a group of stakeholders that has begun efforts to transform the four-acre furnace site at 159 Cedar Ave. into a more-active, vibrant community and tourist destination.

Under an admittedly ambitious concept, the massive remnant of a bygone era would possibly become home to artist studios, a restaurant and microbrewery – all situated inside the furnaces’ several-feet-thick walls, said Maureen McGuigan, Lackawanna County’s deputy director of Arts and Culture who leads an “Iron District steering committee.”

“It would be a living, breathing historical site,” Ms. McGuigan said. “In our grand vision, you’d be able to go inside the furnaces.”

The steering committee, which has been meeting periodically for nearly a year, includes representatives of various entities, such as the Anthracite Heritage Museum, the Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area, Keystone College, the University of Scranton, Lackawanna County, the City of Scranton, United Neighborhood Centers, Scranton Tomorrow, the Pop-Up Studio, McLane Associates landscape architects and DX Dempsey architectural firm, according to Ms. McGuigan.

A description and artist’s rendering posted on DX Dempsey’s website and Facebook page states, “The design concept is to allow the user to explore all of the interesting spaces within the furnaces. The team has imagined a center bustling with activities, including a restaurant, microbrewery, large meeting spaces, as well as interpretative and interactive displays related to the arts, the history, and the production that was once born in the spaces left behind.”

An Iron District designation would be a branding/marketing tool linking the downtown with South Scranton, by stretching from Bogart Court behind Lackawanna Avenue – a part of the “Renaissance at 500” redevelopment project – to the 700 block of Cedar Avenue.

The “keystone” of such a district would be the furnaces, which were originally operated by the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Co. between 1840 and 1902 and which were the site of the first mass production in the United States of iron T-rails for railroads.

An Iron District also would encompass other South Scranton revitalization projects. Those include the United Neighborhood Center’s Elm Street project, and a “gateway” project that aims to coincide with an eventual state Department of Transportation upgrade of the intersection of Cedar Avenue, Orchard Street and the two ramp lanes of the Central Scranton Expressway, to make the junction more pedestrian-friendly and extend the look and feel of the iron furnaces to the South Side gateway at Cedar and Orchard.

Noting the furnace site is “the downtown’s backyard and South Scranton’s front yard,” steering committee member Wayne Evans, who also is a member of the South Side Residents Association, said, “We’re trying to create this synergy between that (Cedar Avenue) area and the furnaces.”

Owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the furnace site is administered by the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces. Efforts made Monday to reach both state agencies were unsuccessful.

According to the museum’s website, the four surviving stone blast furnaces are remnants of an extensive plant of the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co. and represent the early iron industry in the United States. Started in 1840 as Scranton, Grant & Co., the firm had the largest iron production capacity in the United States by 1865. Historical accounts state the blast furnaces were constructed between 1848 and 1857.

By 1880, the furnaces poured 125,000 tons of pig iron, which was converted in its rolling mill and foundry into T-rails and other end products. In 1902, the company dismantled the plant and moved it to Lackawanna, N.Y., to be closer to high-grade iron ores.

A few years ago, a vaulted arch that spans the back of the furnace structure and supports the rear stacks had a minor structural failure, and this damage was repaired in August.

In recent years, the museum also has increased efforts to promote the furnaces as attractions and draw crowds. Last month, the second annual Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces followed a lighting up of the furnaces for a First Friday event. The third annual South Side Farmers Market moved this summer to the furnaces. In September, an inaugural Scranton Cultural Crossroads Festival also was held there. And in June, the furnaces hosted the third annual Arts on Fire Festival, which included a Fire at the Furnace fundraiser.

The steering committee also has looked to ArtsQuest, a nonprofit firm that has been involved in revitalizing the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Ms. McGuigan said.

In 2011, ArtsQuest and other public and private partners launched SteelStacks, an arts and cultural campus at the former Bethlehem Steel plant that closed in 1995.

The Iron District concept is in the early planning stage and the next step would be a preliminary study that the committee hopes to have done next year, Ms. McGuigan said. Such a review may cost around $30,000 and possibly could be funded by grants or contributions from stakeholders, she said.

A preliminary study would help form a fundraising basis for a more-extensive feasibility study, she said. As a result, it could take several years for an Iron District to fully come to fruition, she said.

“Part of the problem is we don’t even know if a lot of it is feasible,” Ms. McGuigan said.

Mr. Evans added of the idea of having studios, restaurant and/or a microbrewery inside the furnaces, “That may or may not be the end result. We’re just thinking outside the box of what it could be.”

Ms. McGuigan said of the furnace site, “We need to make it a living part of the community and make it sustainable. We’re trying to be proactive.”

Mr. Evans added, “It’s such a natural fit. It’s something that we probably should have done or talked about years ago.”

Nov 19 “Group fights to save Lackawanna Landmark” Buffalo Business First

Originally published by Buffalo Business First, “Group fights to save Lackawanna landmark,” 2012 11 19.

Residents and supporters have re-ignited the battle to save the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building from demolition.

Even though it has been decades since Bethlehem Steel shutdown in Lackawanna, leaving the building vacant, many believe the structure still has potential.

The building has been standing since the early 20th century. It carries the history of Buffalo’s glory days — when so many middle class Americans worked in the steel industry.

Now there is talk of bringing the building down.

Joe Peluso, whose father worked at Bethlehem Steel for decades said, “I don’t see the need to tear it down. It’s a national landmark, it’s part of our history here in Buffalo.”

An Erie County Court has put off demolition for at least a little longer. Meanwhile dozens are coming together, hoping to save the building once and for all.

The building has been abandoned since the 1980’s. It is now stained with graffiti, mold and broken glass.

Dana Saylor, who organized Sunday’s rally, has collected about 400 signatures in a petition drive to keep the structure standing.