The Future of Preservation?


The Project is going out of town for a few days. But before I do, here's a great item courtesy readers Mary Beth and Joe Kearney:

Old Buffalo church to be reborn in Atlanta suburb

It's a familiar story. A beautiful old parish in Buffalo, NY is closed due to a declining neighborhood and shrinking population. The building has no takers, so they're in for a terrible Long Goodbye, right?

Wrong. In a move that's really on the cutting edge of religious architectural preservation--or, heck, architectural preservation of any kind--a growing parish in the Atlanta, Georgia suburbs plans to buy the building and move it brick by brick to Atlanta.

To that, the Project says AMEN.

It's something I've thought a lot about, actually. I've often wondered why we can't move buildings that have outlived their usefulness in one area, and place them instead in new neighborhoods that can actually use them.

Cost issues aside, it's a tantalizing what-if scenario. What if any number of defunct Philly parishes had found new life in the burgeoning suburbs? What if, instead of closing, stripping and / or demolishing these structures, we moved them to new and loving homes? Imagine an alternate universe where churches like St. Boniface, Assumption BVM, Our Lady of Mercy, St. Stephen, St. Bonaventure, Most Blessed Sacrament, Transfiguration of Our Lord and others all were alive and well in different locations.

It's an achingly poignant scenario, no?

Yes, there are some concerns about, as the Buffalo City Council says, "strip-mining a city's historic heritage." That's an undeniable consideration, and one that should not be brushed aside lightly.

But let me say this: how is your heritage served by letting historic buildings rot and fall down? Or be demolished for something that's far less timeless? Or hacked apart by new owners who don't appreciate their beauty? It's not. In an ideal world, yes, buildings would be able to stand forever in the exact spot they were conceived, and forever serve their original neighborhoods.

That's simply not possible, though. And I would argue quite vehemently that keeping valuable structures alive, even if it means moving them, performs a far greater architectural service--and is a far greater testament to those who labored to erect them--then simply letting them stand and decay, surrounded by institutions and people who turned their backs on them long ago.

Let's hope I'm not alone. We need to see more of this.