The demolition of St. Patrick’s Church in Watervliet, NY earlier this year was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in my career as a church architect. One of my earliest renovation projects, St. Francis Chapel, was demolished in 1999 when the old Northway Mall was transformed into a new shopping center. But that was just a space in a mall and, although very nice and still a liturgical space, it was nothing like the beauty of St. Patrick’s Church.
St. Patrick’s was the very first church we attended when my wife and I moved to the Capital District over 30 years ago. We attended Mass there, went to concerts there and loved to show it off to visitors to the area. To watch it be disassembled piece by piece was heart-breaking. Though I intentionally avoided traveling through Watervliet so that I wouldn’t have to see the destruction firsthand, the almost daily updates in the Times Union kept reminding me of the tragedy taking place just a few miles away.
The whole issue of what to do with closed churches is a very difficult one. A conference dedicated to that topic was held earlier this year. I attended the conference and heard many good ideas – all of which were too late for St. Patrick’s. But Rev. Alan Rudnick, a blogger for the Times Union, posted an option I had not heard about. I share that idea with you here for your consideration. It may be too late for St. Patrick’s but perhaps other architecturally significant churches can still be saved.
Should a dying church be repurposed? by Rev. Alan Rudnick
Speaking of which, check out this map of 26 churches in New York City that are being converted to condos: http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/05/29/mapping_26_nyc_houses_of_worship_being_replaced_by_condos.php
Apparently, the trend is even hotter in Boston, with more projects being approved all the time. You can read more about it at http://www.bdcnetwork.com/condo-developers-covet-churches-conversions?eid=216290370&bid=1059634.
I was pleased to see that at least some of St. Patrick’s Church & Rectory were salvaged and put to good use. In addition to the pipe organ and stained glass windows, which were salvaged for some local diocesan parishes, Good Ground Family Church in Cohoes also received some of the salvaged materials, which they are putting to good use. You can read about it here: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Faces-of-Faith-Part-of-St-Patrick-s-lives-in-5083054.php.
For an excellent example of how an underused church was adapted so that it could share space with another user, you may want to read about Christus Church in Hannover, Germany in this article from Architectural Record: http://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/12210-christus-church-by-ahrens-grabenhorst
The key is to not let things get so bad that demolition is the only viable option. Partners for Sacred Places in Philadelphia has been preaching this gospel for years. If you want to learn more about the options for churches that are empty for too many hours a week, you can read this post (https://network.aia.org/blogs/john-j-tagle-aia1/2019/05/28/reversing-the-trend?CommunityKey=02a1eb58-b22a-45a2-972b-bfa21d0ba1a6) or go directly to the Partners for Sacred Places website (https://sacredplaces.org), where you will find a wealth of useful information.