Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over

General Abstract

Reclaiming an Abandoned Church for Reuse as an Events Center, Art Gallery and Record Label Offices: Confronting the Reality that They Didn't Always Build 'em so Well.

Wednesday, September 26
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: HYATT-Grand B

One night in 1995, several large Medina Sandstone units fell off the North Tower of the Delaware Asbury Church, crashed into the Nave roof and tumbled into the adjacent street. It appeared the final death throes of an abandoned local landmark had begun. The original congregation left in the early 1980s as their membership declined. The building was 120 years old. It had thick stone walls, stone buttresses countering heavy timber roof trusses and two landmark towers; its massive scale and quality materials should have ensured centuries of low maintenance use. Except it didn't work out like that. The threat to demolish the building had never loomed larger.

There were hints of trouble before the stones fell out. The choir window bowed in the prevailing winds. The North Tower belfry wanted to bow out the masonry piers framing the louvers. Large sections of the soft Pennsylvania slate roof had failed. Smaller veneer stones fell out of the west elevation but hadn't landed in the sidewalk or the street.

But once those big tower stones hit the street, the City had to act. Pleading poverty and no obvious use, City Hall condemned the building and began snail-paced plans to raze it.

Recording artist Ani DeFranco and her manager, Scot Fisher saw the danger of Buffalo losing another chunk of its 19th Century legacy. They thought they could make the building work as a "Rock Palace" and a new location for Ani's independent record label. They asked Flynn Battaglia Architects to assemble a team of preservation professionals to accomplish that.

Our presentation will examine conditions found on the building including towers that had been built without full courses of bedding mortar and anchorage; decorative buttresses that were simply stacked against exterior walls; composite masonry that lacked any keying; timber trusses that were not trusses at all but functioned merely because of their size and main floor joists that were mortised and tenoned, significantly reducing their bearing capacity - not good for an active concert venue.

It will also examine how the discovery and the solutions the team (FBA, Vertical Access, Silman and others) developed to address these unexpected problems were implemented. Discovery included use of industrial roped access to get to the tops of the two towers, personnel lifts to access walls and roofs and selective probing, dismantlement and testing of the building materials. Specific site constraints included unstable masonry, dealing with winds off Lake Erie and completing the survey during a very cold (!) Buffalo winter. Solutions required sensitive structural and architectural interventions to resolve flawed original design and construction methods without compromising the building's Gothic Revival character. The resulting restored building has become a model preservation success story in Buffalo.

Learning Objectives:

Michael Lennon, AIA, LEED-AP

Senior Architect
Flynn Battaglia Architects, PC

Mr. Lennon has an Architecture degree from the University of Detroit and has been a licensed Architect in New York State since 1978. He is a long-time member of APT and has spoken at past conferences about his work at the Lord and Burnham conservatory in Buffalo and Adler & Sullivan's Guaranty Building; both highlights of his professional career. His interest in architectural history and archaic building methods has led to intensive involvement in projects for many of Western New York's National Landmark structures including the Roycroft Campus, St. Paul's Cathedral, the George Eastman Museum and the Richardson-Olmsted Complex.


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Edmund P. Meade, PE, FAPT


Mr. Meade is a principal at Silman. He is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Civil Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins University and he has lectured at Columbia University, Drew University, and other universities. He has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Architectural History and Certificate in Historic Preservation from The University of Virginia. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the Department of Civil Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer. He was inducted a Fellow of APT in 2012.


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Elizabeth Corbin Murphy

Elizabeth Corbin Murphy, FAIA is an accomplished architect dedicated to preservation and restoration technology and design. She consults with building owners and architects regarding state and federal rehabilitation tax credits, design related to old or historic structures, detailed restoration specifications, historic interiors and design guidelines for historic urban centers. Elizabeth’s firm, Chambers, Murphy & Burge Historical Architecture, merged with Cleveland-based Perspectus Architecture in 2016. Now one of the largest architecture firms in Ohio, the combined practice offers complementary strengths in Architectural Design and Historical Architecture.

Elizabeth is the 2012 recipient of the AIA Ohio Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed on an individual architect. She is past chair of the Advisory Group for the American Institute of Architects National Committee on Historic Resources and a Professional Peer for the GSA Design Excellence and First Impressions Programs. She has served on several design awards juries and is immediate past president of AIA Ohio. Additionally, Elizabeth is a Professor of Practice at Kent State University’s College of Architecture& Environmental Design, currently teaching a course on the Historic American Building Survey. She was honored with the 2016 Woman of the Year Award for Integrity by the Summit County Historical Society and the Woman’s History Project in Akron, Ohio.


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Reclaiming an Abandoned Church for Reuse as an Events Center, Art Gallery and Record Label Offices: Confronting the Reality that They Didn't Always Build 'em so Well.

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