The Church of the Transfiguration is an abandoned and collapsed Roman Catholic church in Buffalo, New York.
The city of Buffalo grew significantly in the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of immigration, the construction of the Erie Canal and rail transportation, and its proximity to Lake Erie. The city flourished as its economy centered on the grain, steel, and automobile industries.
The Church of the Transfiguration was constructed to serve a rapidly growing Polish community on Buffalo’s eastern fringes in the late 1800s, joining immigrants from Prussia, Austria, and Russia who were coming to work in the burgeoning city. The population of Poles had increased from 6.5% of the city’s total population in 1881 to nearly 20% by the turn of the century 1 and two existing Roman Catholic churches, St. Adalbert on Stanislaus Street and the Assumption Church on Amherst Street, had become overwhelmed with the population growth. 3
The St. Joseph’s Society of St. Adalbert and the Rev. James Wojcik of the Assumption Church met at St. Mary of Sorrows in May 1893 to discuss the need for a dedicated church to serve the Polish community, concluding that the advice of Bishop Ryan was needed. The bishop gave the proposal his approval on July 20, 3 and a parish was hastily organized just three days later during a meeting held at St. Stanislaus Church where the name Transfiguration of Our Lord was chosen for the new facility. Land for the new parish was acquired on the south side of Stanislaus Street between Beck and Mill Streets.
The cornerstone of a combination wood frame church and schoolhouse was laid on August 27 which was completed in October. 3 It initially served approximately 50 families in the parish which grew to over 150 families by the end of November. Extra masses were held, but the small building was soon overwhelmed with worshippers.
Planning for a larger church building across the street from the existing sanctuary began in 1895 and construction began on June 30, 1896. 3 A cornerstone was laid during a ceremony on August 2. The new Church of the Transfiguration sanctuary was completed at the cost of $76,000 and dedicated on July 5, 1897. Designed in the Gothic Revival architectural style by Carl Schmill, 14 the 1,400-seat facility boasted a 180-foot-high bell tower, stained glass windows with pinwheel mullion patterns, and later, interior murals painted by Joseph Mazur. One of the murals depicted the c. 1920 “miracle over the Vistula,” an appearance by the Virgin Mary over the river that flows through Warsaw, and then turning back of Soviet armies trying to capture the city. 15 Another, by an unidentified artist, features the successful defense of the Czestochowa monastery against Swedish besiegers in 1655.
The schoolhouse was torn down and enlarged in 1914, 14 and a new rectory was completed in 1925. 21
Deindustrialization in the latter half of the 20th century led to a steady decline in population. Many of the factories that once sustained the immigrant community downsized or closed. Likewise, the congregation at the Church of the Transfiguration saw congregation declines. The school closed in 1985 followed by the church building in 1990. 5 Mass was held in the former parish school chapel. 6 16
In August 1992, the Diocese of Buffalo revealed plans for eight east side parishes: 18
- Transfiguration, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, St. Luke’s, and St. Joachim’s would be closed under the consolidation proposal. Transfiguration and Queen of the Most Holy Rosary would be merged into St. Adalbert’s, while St. Luke’s and St. Joachim’s would be merged into St. John Kanty. St. Stanislaus and Corpus Christi would be unchanged.
- Transfiguration, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and St. Joachim’s would be closed under the mission proposal. St. John Kanty would remain open, with St. Luke as its mission, and St. Joachim would be closed; St. Stanislaus would remain open, with St. Adalbert’s as its mission; and Transfiguration and Queen of the Most Holy Rosary would be closed.
- Under the cluster plan, all eight parishes would remain open but only three priests would be assigned to serve them. St. Adalbert’s, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Transfiguration, and St. Stanislaus would be grouped into one administrative unit; St. Luke’s, St. John Kanty and St. Joachim’s would be grouped into another; and Corpus Christi would be its own independent unit as the parish property and buildings are owned by the Conventual Franciscan Order and staffed by Franciscan priests.
It was decided to consolidate the churches on May 1. 20 The Church of the Transfiguration, with membership down to about 50 people, closed on the parish’s 100th anniversary on August 22, 1993. 13 The rectory was leased to Paradise Ministries, a transitional home for paroled women and their children, in October, 21 and the convent was leased to Friends of Cazenovia Manor, an alcohol rehabilitation center. 15
Because of its deteriorating condition, the Diocese requested permission to demolish the vacant church building in 1994. 4 Work was set to begin April 6 but was delayed until June 15 16 while preservationists attempted to save two large murals atop the church arches and at least one stained glass window. 13
Pauline Nowak and her son, Francis Trezevant, of Paul Francis Associates, filed suit against the Diocese on April 22 14 to block the demolition from resuming. 6 The pair claimed that plans to tear down the church failed to comply with state laws dealing with landmark structures and with Roman Catholic Canon Law regarding the demolition of a church. 14 The state supreme court ultimately cleared the way for the demolition, 6 but on May 4, Bishop Edward D. Head announced that he would delay tearing down the church until June 15 to enable community groups to submit proposals for preserving and reusing the building. Negotiations with selling the church building to Paul Francis Associates began on June 14.
Based on the recommendation of the Buffalo Common Council, the church agreed on July 1 to sell the property to Paul Francis Associates for $7,000. 4 6 The company pledged to repurpose the building as a Montessori preschool. 5 As part of the sale, Nowak and Trezevant renamed the Church of the Transfiguration to the Sounds of Joy Building, a change stipulated by the Diocese. 10 19 On July 12, 8 the city passed a resolution naming the Church of the Transfiguration building a local landmark. 5 7
The sale was plagued with issues, though. The Diocese delayed in providing state Division of Safety and Healthy asbestos-clearance certification documents to Paul Francis Associates and in returning six windows that were removed as a prelude to the planned demolition. 5 7 The original closing date, originally set to be in early October, was delayed for a month. Additionally, the company’s general commercial liability insurance policy on the building was then canceled in early 1995. 5
Additionally, Paul Francis Associates had pledged to use $100,000 in community block grant funding to restore the church structure. 4 All but $25,000 was diverted to other projects, and only some of the money was used to repair the roof and board up the stained glass windows. Meanwhile, the company debated with the city on how to preserve the church. 9 The owners were in receipt of two massive stained glass windows in 1996 that was removed by the Diocese but could not install them because the federal historic preservation standards required the building to use boiled linseed oil putty on the windows, as it was done when the church was originally built. Nowak and Trezevant wanted to use silicone caulk as it was cheaper.
The local Housing Court cited the church property for numerous violations of the city code beginning in September 1996. 11 12 In October 2002, an arrest warrant was issued for Nowak for not responding to any of the Housing Court orders.
Paul Francis Associates was again in the city’s crosshairs in 2007 after an inspection found the church to be in poor structural condition. 10 The city forced the owners to repair the stained glass windows, stabilize the steeple, and patch the roof. Minimal work to patch the roof began on October 19 and was 75% complete by November. 17 As part of the repairs, the Housing Court dropped the arrest warrant for Nowak on November 14. 19
The former church building was sold in late 2017 to Daniel Britt who had hoped to turn the vacant structure into a beer garden. 22 Unfortunately, the roof collapsed during a windstorm on November 16, 2020.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “The Polish Community of Buffalo and the Pan-American Exposition.” University at Buffalo Libraries, article.
- “Church of the Transfiguration (Buffalo).” Opacity, article.
- Napora, James. “Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church.” Buffalo as an Architectural Museum, 1995, article.
- Keenan, Kevin A. “Setting the record straight on Transfiguration Church.” Buffalo News, 15 Nov. 2009, p. G2.
- Vogel, Mike. “Insurance Woes Likely to Delay Sale of Church.” Buffalo News, 14 Jan. 1995, p. C1.
- Condren, Dave. “Diocese Sells Transfiguration Church; Site Will House Montessori Preschool.” Buffalo News, 2 Jul. 1994, p. B9.
- Anderson, Dale. “Diocese and Restoration Group at Odds Over Purchase of East Side Church.” Buffalo News, 17 Oct. 1994, p. C1.
- McNeil, Harold. “East Side Church Designated a Landmark.” Buffalo News, 13 Jul. 1994.
- Beebe, Michael. “Stripping the Sacred.” Buffalo News, 7 Mar. 1999, p. A1.
- Gryta, Matt. “Church will meet repair deadline.” Buffalo News, 22 Dec. 2007, p. D10.
- Gryta, Matt. “Lawyer blasts city over church renovation woes.” Buffalo News, 10 Oct. 2002, p. B2.
- Gryta, Matt. “State to get cost estimates in bid for funds to restore former church.” Buffalo News, 18 Apr. 2002, p. C9.
- Vogel, Mike. “Demolition of Church is Delayed.” Buffalo News, 4 Apr. 1994.
- Cardinale, Anthony and Matt Gryta. “Judge Delays Demolition of Church.” Buffalo News, 22 Apr. 1994.
- Vogel, Mike. “Church Heritage is Threatened.” Buffalo News, 28 Mar. 1994.
- Fairbanks, Phil. “Transfiguration Church Named Landmark.” Buffalo News, 27 May 1994.
- Fryta, Matt. “75% progress seen on rehab of ex-church.” Buffalo News, 15 Nov. 2007, p. B3.
- Condren, Dave. “Catholic Proposal Could Close Up to 4 Parishes on East Side.” Buffalo News, 9 Aug. 1992.
- Gryla, Matt. “Repairs start on old church.” Buffalo News, 11 Oct. 2007, p. B6.
- Condren, Dave. “Four East Side Catholic Parishes to Close.” Buffalo News, 2 May 1993.
- Condren, Dave. “Ex-Home for Priests Houses Recovering Drug Users.” Buffalo News, 30 Apr. 1994, p. A6.
- Britt, Daniel C. “New Roof for Transfiguration Church.” GoFundMe, 21 Jul. 2019.