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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.