This is what they call progress.

Lackawanna is on a tear lately in an ill advised effort to eliminate its historic heritage.  The latest news from the former steel city is that it is compelling the demolition of the old Lackawanna Steel office building (later known as Bethlehem North Office Building).  The demolition has been set for today, Friday May 18.  Demo equipment is already parked behind the building.  
The old Lackawanna Steel headquarters has been empty for probably three decades and neglected for probably four.  It may be the most historic building in Lackawanna after the OLV Basilica.  It was the heart of the WNY steel industry for many years as Lackawanna Steel (later sold to Bethlehem Steel).  I believe that this steel plant was once the third largest in the country, employing 10s of thousands of workers.   WWI an WWII were fought out of this plant and many many WNYers made their living off of the decisions made in this building.  
Lackawanna’s nickname of the Steel City, of course, came from the massive plant which was operated from this building. But that is long lost history.  Today it is in rough condition after its owners allowed it to rot for so long.  The City of Lackawanna has stated that they are sick of trying to save the building (although there is no record I can find of them trying to save it – if anyone knows of efforts put forth by the City to save the building let me know).  The City also claims that there are collapsed stairs and floors within the building.  There is a collapsed staircase, but there appears to be no evidence of collapsed or near collapsing floors in the building.  There is a rich record of recent images (Facebook) showing the interior, and recent reports from inside refute any claim of collapsed floors.  We are left with a neglected building that is still very beautiful but which is seen as an impediment to progress by the leaders of Lackawanna today.  As I see it, they are calling for progress in the form of elimination of their heritage.
Shea's-Demo-Buffalo-NY-2.jpg
Photo: Steve Siegel
For a good look at the type of progress Lackawanna can expect at the Bethlehem site, take a short journey up Ridge Road to the vacant site which formerly held the very beautiful St. Barbara’s Church. Just about a year ago the Catholic Church declared the church unfixable and had it hauled off to the garbage dump.  That piece of cultural heritage is gone and in its place we find this crummy real estate sign practically begging for any offer on the property.  
Demofvaevfvefvrevrvvrv.jpg
Luckily the preservationists didn’t do any obstruction on this one – we need these shovel ready sites right? Perhaps they will get a better price if we can convince someone to tear down that crappy old building to the left.  Or maybe we can convince the county to close that lovely old library across the street and tear that down too.  Once we sterilize the old stuff off the land it should be a lot easier to get some Burger Kings or a car wash or something really good in there. An Olive Garden is probably too much to hope for at this point.

About the author  ⁄ Sarah Maurer

64 comments
brownteeth
brownteeth

Many buildings locally were saved that were in the same or worse condition at one point in time. The Guarantee Building comes to mind and the company I work for is just about finished with the Jamestown Gateway Train Station which was in very similar abandoned condition.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/.8QigZo5hJhFnv_XeH2GDskA534
https://me.yahoo.com/a/.8QigZo5hJhFnv_XeH2GDskA534

I commute up the 5 every day for work, and while I think preserving history is good, this building has little going for it. It really does look decayed beyond the ability to restore it without spending more money than it would to build a new building. Yes, preservation can be important, but I'm not so sure preserving a building that stands alone in a field is the right approach. This isn't Shea's, this isn't an urban environment. It is an old admin building in a field in the front of an old steel site that is already largely torn down. It would be better to focus on other, more interesting historic sites for preservation than to worry with this site in Lackawanna/South Buffalo.

whatever
whatever

paul>"it would've been more effective for the city to enforce existing codes and punish owners so neighbors don't have to choose between a crumbling house or a vacant lot."

Probably often the tradeoff isn't as simple as that. There's also steep population decline in some neighborhoods (sometimes for reasons nothing to do with building conditions - maybe crime, schools, customer presence, etc) - even when codes are obeyed.

While for a lot of reasons I agree with you in favoring better-smarter-much-stronger code enforcement for all buildings, my guess is the impact of that on the total number of demos in Buffalo (or Lackawanna) could be far different than greatly reducing.

It might cause some to not be demoed (optimistic scenario), while also causing some demos to happen sooner (as I just made a similar point replying to Louis here re Bethlemem). Or when code enforcement saves one that would have been demoed otherwise, now its occupant isn't in a different one which then in turn has more demo risk.

Still, even if it wouldn't reduce demos noticeably, I can't think of any good argument against stronger enforcement of codes - if done in common sense ways rather than nitpicking on expensive technicalities.

Maybe Byron is saving that idea in case he needs a goal in his fourth term starting in… hmm, when would that be, January 2018? He'll be really let down if Cuomo goes that long without promoting him to anything better!

whatever
whatever

louis>"but if they had followed that same mantra this building never would have come to this"

Maybe yes as you wrote, or maybe the opposite with demo even sooner. Strict/aggressive code enforcement all along for this building might have motivated Gateway to demolish it 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. That could have been at any point they may have decided ongoing upkeep costs aren't justified by the likelihood - or lack of it - for anybody's reuse project materializing.

As the irony pampin noted above…

"I suppose the best thing anyone could do if they want to save this thing is to convince the city to look the other way on the code violations. Then the building can go back to falling apart in peace until it collapses on its own."

There's no way to know if there would have been any serious-competent-well-funded proposals for reuse beyond just cool well meaning ideas. If not, then what pampin wrote might have been true all along ever since Bethlehem stopped using the building.

This of course doesn't mean more strict code enforcement isn't a good idea. It is. But its consequences might not always be what demo opponents would predict.

paulsobo
paulsobo

I believe they expanded the rear of the building so there is nothing worth saving there and the interior has been remodelled many times over so its pretty much the facade.

Is it really to much to ask to just save the facade for a future use? I think not.

benfranklin
benfranklin

We sent steel manufacturing overseas (cause of this buildings demise), while healthcare and education (two things we complain about the price spiraling out of control of) we can't outsource.

sonyactivision
sonyactivision

This would have been a perfect job for the Wendt Foundation. Oh wait, they're too busy spending millions to block a casino!

LouisTully
LouisTully

I live in Allentown. I own my home. I cannot do as I please.

"Who in their right mind would buy ANY older buildings in the city if the public had a say in how you spent your money ? Think about it. Who would take that chance"

There's been numerous people who have taken that chance. There's tons of money out there, ask Rocco. If Gateway or Lackawanna gave a donkey's dong about this building they could have someone else pay to stabilize it.

I love how Lackawanna is so proud of its history but hasn't done dyck to save this building. If not for OLV this would be the greatest architectural contribution Lackawanna has to offer.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Buffalo has a history of... 60 years? of tearing down buildings for the sake of "progress". To quote My Cousin Vinny: "Maybe it's time for a thicker set of glasses".

It doesn't matter which side of the preservation fence you're on, nothing can disprove the fact that Lackawanna all of a sudden wants to enforce codes but if they had followed that same mantra this building never would have come to this. Tearing this building down accomplishes absolutely nothing.

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

Can I provide you with specific names of personal injury lawsuits from Buffalo? What, do you expect me to go to the courthouse and search the archives of past personal injury cases to convince you that it could happen in Buffalo? Get real.

STEEL
STEEL

San Fransico, Charlston, Baltimore, Seattle, Pittsburgh

PaulBuffalo
PaulBuffalo

I don't think all demolition is bad. Removing mundane decrepit structures to save a community is prudent. However, it would've been more effective for the city to enforce existing codes and punish owners so neighbors don't have to choose between a crumbling house or a vacant lot. What does that say about the city's supposed accomplishments? It will be even more effective if the city improves building codes so that poorly-designed new houses are not built, either. Some of the BRO articles about new builds have been downright depressing.

Meanwhile, important structures, like the subject of this article, that help tell the history of western New York are left to disappear. Architecture is important and this is just another sad story.

pampiniform
pampiniform

I don't see anyone realistically doing anything with this anytime soon. Lackawanna and Gateway don't seem to have the money or any use for the building. Nobody else has ever stepped up in all the decades to do anything with the place. The company is being forced to do something about the code violations and the decrepit nature of the building (as determined by the city itself), which in this case is emergency demolition, which the company is fully within its rights to do.

I suppose the best thing anyone could do if they want to save this thing is to convince the city to look the other way on the code violations. Then the building can go back to falling apart in peace until it collapses on its own.

Tim
Tim

This is not privately owned. Bnmc receives 200,000,000$/ year from the state. Ub is also a heavily subsidized institution. We have a say in this.

Tim
Tim

And how much do you think it will cost to demo it? A s@@tload more than $3 mil, I can tell you that. Much of which will be on the taxpayers, directly or indirectly.

pampiniform
pampiniform

Do you somehow think that this sort of thing wouldn't or couldn't happen in Buffalo?

whatever
whatever

Paul, grad's question to which I replied shifted the topic to greatness, not progress.

I just said those examples are things that are considered basic needs in cities of developed nations, and no doubt happen in all of them. Not things which by themselves create greatness anywhere.

Whether they're 'progress' depends on what's being compared. If trash collection or snow plowing didn't happen somewhere that needed it, then starting them would be progress. It's human nature to take things for granted.

About demolition of long-vacant buildings, I wonder if you or grad happened to notice this in the Buffalo News last week?

Usually the BN's reporters and columnists try to be as negative as they can about anything to do with demolition, but this time they admitted some neighbors had good things to say about it, even if the word progress wasn't used.

"Neighbors prefer empty lots to decaying homes

By Dan Herbeck NEWS STAFF REPORTER

May 7, 2012, 10:40 PM

… Until recently, construction worker Terrence Southern, 40, and his wife, Laura, had vacant houses on both sides of their home. They were thrilled in mid-March when - after years of complaints to City Hall - one was torn down.

Living next to the house at 108 Koons was a nightmare for the Southerns. Several species of vermin, including possums, rats and skunks, made the house their home during the warmer months, Southern said.

"The worst thing is, when the weather gets really cold, the vacant houses get really cold, and these things are looking for a warmer place to live - my house," he said.

The house at 108 Koons was also used by prostitutes, who took their customers into the building to turn tricks, and by junkies, other neighbors said.

Southern has 11 grandchildren, and it broke his heart last year when the mothers of his grandchildren said they would no longer allow the children to visit him on Koons.

… "My first choice for any of these [vacant] houses would be to see somebody buy them, fix them up and live in them," he said. "My second choice would be to have them torn down and turned into vacant lots. My last choice is to have them just sit there, the way they are. These houses are a hazard to this neighborhood."..."

The whole thing is worth reading. It might help in part to explain why Mayor Brown's popularity is high, for those who are confused by that.

sansones
sansones

Quick question for brownteeth.... Were any of the run down administration buildings in any of those cities you stated above in the condition this building is in? Last time I checked when I DID visit Boston, New York, and Washington DC they never had areas like the Lackawanna Steel Site. I'm not against saving old buildings, but there is nothing left for this site to offer.Like DOC said "like a person, the building died. Bury it"

Also the White House was saved because it was burnt down in the War of 1812 and it was the home to OUR PRESIDENT not to a company that has been out of business for 30 years!

DOC
DOC

like a person, the building died. Bury it.

grad94
grad94

plus: cape may, nj, which is a huge tourist draw for victorian architecture just like ours. look it up.

also: chautauqua, san francisco, cape cod, philadelphia, savannah, and every other city that has hosted the national trust.

grad94
grad94

everyone is a preservationist after the fact.

grad94
grad94

so can you supply any actual cases in buffalo of lawyers getting involved?

brownteeth
brownteeth

Cities that save old crappy run down admin buildings: Boston, New Orleans, DC (White House for god's sake was saved at one point!), NY, Chicago to name a few. I get that the location of this building is a real issue for saving it but you honestly think that the building itself is not worth saving? Have you no vision to see its potential? I realize that saving it is a long shot but the idea of saving it, and similar buildings, is certainly worth pursuing. Perhaps you've never visited the cities I mentioned though to realize this.

PaulBuffalo
PaulBuffalo

By that analogy, Buffalo hasn't seen much progress from all the snow plowing that has gone on for a few decades.

sansones
sansones

This is the problem with Buffalo. We are we so stuck in our ways of 50 - 100 years ago? Cant we just be done with it.... To me this is just a ugly reminder of our past that is not coming back. We have to realize the fact that the Steel Age is behind us and not coming back to Buffalo. Why would we even want to keep this building that is on acres and acres of ugly vacant land? Who really wants to go admire a building that is in decay and falling down along with the other 50 acres of vacant land left behind by Bethlehem Steel? A bulldozer and environmental study for future development to the whole property would be much better than preserving this and the area around it. What other city in America saves crappy run down old adminstration buildings????? There is such a promising future in this city, but for some reason we cannot let ourselves leave the past.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

It's in quotes, dated, and attributed. It was said. I mentioned it in the comments on the previous article, as well.

And when the Lackawanna mayor said that to me, he knew I was a Buffalo Rising writer, and didn't ask that it be off the record or on background. So I feel it's fair game -- even though I think it reflects extremely poorly on a new mayor who otherwise seems to have gotten a good start (for example, having his city be part of the regional land bank). Still, I would have kept his comment to myself, or shared it only verbally, if it wasn't for this egregious action that his administration is wrong-headedly undertaking.

DR
DR

Trautman associates, a reputable local architectural firm, before BNMC bought the building, did an extensive survey back in 2006 of the Trico building, and estimated it would be 3 million minimum to mothball it, back in 2006. Add another 6 years of open roofs, neglect, and water damage.

Now, how much would it be to stabilize a building that has sat vacant for 40 years ? $250,000 ? $500,000 ? 1 million ? Who knows.

Everyone look at a pretty facade and says "lets save it". Great. Exteriors are meant to hold up to the weather. Insides that are exposed to the elements or neglected are not. How many would change their tunes if they got to see the insides of these old neglected buildings ?

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

OK, I'm the LEAST qualified to be making "strong & handsome" judgements. But that said, I'll tell you that Trico building is indeeeed one tall, strong & handsome drink of water! Woof!

DR
DR

Well, to the comment that I didn't reply fast enough to counterpoints, I have to step away every now and then as needed for my job.

Rand 503 wrote "If you tire of a building, you sell it. Simple as that. If you can't find any buyers, too bad -- you can't let it rot."

Exactly. Which is exactly why they are demolishing it. 40 years this building has been sitting, with no takers.

Where does it say that the public, as admirers of old buildings, are allowed to tell people who own these buildings (this is privately owned correct?) what they can or cannot do ?

Where, do we as citizens, who have none of our own money invested in this building, tell someone, or a company, what to do with a building they purchased ? We have authority why... because the building is old ?

There's an old Tops on the corner of Seneca and Orchard Park rds. If the owner of that building decided to knock it down, would anyone care ? Why not ? Because its not old enough ? Because its not architecturally pleasing ? because its not in the city ?

If this Lackawanna Steel Building is a privately owned building, me, you, steel, kermit the frog and whoever else wants to join the conversation should not have a say in what the owner wants to do it. They own it. Not you. Period.

How would this be different than if a homeowner wants to knock down a garage or shed on his property. It may be the fanciest shed or garage in the history of garages or sheds, it may be ornate, made from solid granite, and constructed in the early 1900's. Neighbors love looking at this shed. Its the prettiest shed ever. But over the years, it was not up kept. He wants to knock it down. It's his shed, he bought it, its on his property, he should be able to do with it whatever he wants.

How is this any different ?

Who in their right mind would buy ANY older buildings in the city if the public had a say in how you spent your money ? Think about it. Who would take that chance, knowing if something went wrong or plans did not come about, they were stuck with it.

If you have an issue with what is going happening with a certain building or property.... buy it. It's that simple.

Up and coming
Up and coming

.......and by often used you mean twice (H&O Oats, GLF)?

whatever
whatever

grad>"name one city that has demolished its way to greatness."

Looked at by itself, of course it doesn't create greatness. Since no building stands forever, demolitions are something that has to happen to some extent everywhere - like trash collection, snow plowing, waterline repair, etc.

Your question sounds like saying "name one city that ever trash collected (or snow-plowed, or waterline-repaired) its way to greatness".

All cities, great and non-great, need to do some basic things like these and yes sometimes also demolishing decrepit long-vacant buildings if and when nobody steps forward using their own personal money-time-effort-risk to be their saviors.

whatever
whatever

rand>"if you had your feet to the fire and had to actually maintain a building, ..."

If feet to the fire means stronger enforcement of building codes, I favor that too.

However for non-landmarked buildings such as the Bethlehem and Trico, people should keep in mind that demolition is often a perfectly legal alternative to code compliance.

Sometimes more aggressive enforcement of building codes (very high fines, even jail sentences) might lead to unintended consequences which some would dislike of demolitions happening more soon rather than later.

In other cases it might help save some buildings because work will happen before they're too far gone. It all depends of course on the perceived likelihood of demand to use any building for something, and the predicted time frame for it happening considering building type and location, area's economy, etc, and costs depending on building size, type, condition.

But stronger more consistent enforcement of reasonable codes would be good - help speed things along in either direction (toward serious mothballing or demo), in addition to improving public safety.

Frankenberry
Frankenberry

Yeah and notice how DR didn't respond to that. As soon as you put it in a context that truly effects them in a negative way then it's a different story.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

Actually, my response was completely on point.

I cited the grain elevators as they are often used as examples of "impeding progress" by the tear down crowd.

YesSir
YesSir

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo (although we did it), London (again not them), Singapore...

grad94
grad94

name one city that has demolished its way to greatness.

Buffalo_Resurrection
Buffalo_Resurrection

A behemoth building such as this is precarious even at more desirable locations and this is a rather odd place to find such a building negatively compounded by Route 5 which is more of an inner harbor gateway out of the City of Buffalo.

However, considering that this building has languished for close to forty-years I am curious, if not suspicious, as to the real reasons why there is now a mad rush to demolish.

If safety is truly a concern than I would approach this project on more of a controlled demolition by shoring–up the front façade not unlike the former Gas Works façade or, better yet, as the Truman Administration gutted and rebuilt the White House during his administration (link: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=truman+white+house+renovation&qpvt=truman+white+house+renovation&FORM=IGRE).

Money is going to be spent, so why not spend it wisely; once this building is gone, it is gone forever.

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

You never heard of premises liability law? Here's a link to an attorney's website, which explains that if you are injured in an abandoned builing, you might have a lawsuit.

http://orlando.harrellandharrell.com/premises-liability-lawyers-orlando.php

Here's an excerpt in case you don't feel like clicking:

"An attractive nuisance is a particularly hazardous situation that may have an alluring appeal to children or adults that are merely passing by and see it. Premises liability laws also protect you from attractive nuisances that offer hazardous situations which might cause a personal injury or wrongful death. Some of the most obvious attractive nuisances might be the backyard swimming pool that is not properly secured, an ABANDONED BUILDING that was left open...As with any accidental injury, be sure you understand your legal options in a premises liability lawsuit and never discuss any settlement with an insurance company before seeking legal counsel. Don't settle for less than you deserve.

Abandoned buildings are also hazardous to firefighters, as this article demonstrates where "Owners of the building where 2 Chicago firefighters died were sued over roof violations."

http://www.illinoisinjurylawyerblog.com/2010/12/owners_of_the_building_where_2.html

Rand503
Rand503

If you tire of a building, you sell it. Simple as that. If you can't find any buyers, too bad -- you can't let it rot. That's why we have buildings codes.

If you own a building and it isn't sellable, then there is a problem. And the problem is that there is disinvestment in the community. If you had to actually maintain a building that you owned that isn't economically viable, then you as a property owner would be screaming all around the town to do what ever you can to make sure your investment remains viable.

That's the problem in Buffalo. Too many property owners simply walked away from their buildings because the suburbs offered a better alternative. It was okay to let the city slide because you could make the money elsewhere.

But if you had your feet to the fire and had to actually maintain a building, then you would be doing whatever you could to improve the economy so that your investment remains viable enough to pay for itself or at least sell it at a reasonable profit.

There's been a lot of disinvestment in Buffalo, and many people suspect that wasn't entirely accidental.

QB Bills
QB Bills

I can’t help but wonder why it is that we, and by that I mean me too, only get stirred into action when a city, a town, or an owner threatens to demolish these buildings that we all obviously care a great deal about. I know that there are many proactive organizations that are doing their best to preserve our city’s architectural heritage, but we individuals have just as important a role to play. I’ll be just as upset as the next person if/when this demolition commences. But I have driven by and admired this building for years, and I have watched it decay. But I never stepped forward and asked who was taking responsibility for the state of this or any other building that we’ve lost or come close to losing. So I can’t feel upset if this demolition goes through except at myself, because at the end of the day me snapping pictures of it when nobody is looking is not the same as me going to Buffalo or Lackawanna government and asking that something be done to protect and preserve these buildings.

Up and coming
Up and coming

"I can never understand the argument that "this or that historic building is standing in the way of progress." The grain elevators are a perfect example."

Easy with the talking points and lets try to stay on topic. Plus, I don't remember anyone saying that about this building? Or, for that fact anyone saying anything about grain elevators.

Up and coming
Up and coming

"strongest, most handsome building on the campus"

I think you'd be hard pressed to find many outside of this site who would think the same thing. Then consider the contaminants and the escolated price and of a redo on this building and your argument falls short.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

I can never understand the argument that "this or that historic building is standing in the way of progress." The grain elevators are a perfect example.

You mean to tell me that the grain elevators (all twelve of them?) are impeding ALL development on the waterfront? How so?

My assessment is that people see these historic buildings as visible examples of how far Buffalo has fallen, and/or that they serve as symbols of Buffalo's past...to which fewer and fewer people relate.

And, therefore, there is little foresight given to how powerful and incredible these buildings could be, if reused (that is until after the fact, such as with the Webb, the Guaranty, Shea's, etc.)

We need to realize that there are different forms of preservation: outright reuse, mothballing for future use, saving of relics/remains (which should have been done with St. Mary's-on-the-Hill).

bernicebuffalove
bernicebuffalove

Agreed. Funny how a BILLION dollars of investment doesn't include (or even consider) rehabbing the strongest, most handsome building on the campus...

LouisTully
LouisTully

I drove by Trico yesterday.

Man, that sure is a huge parking lot across the street from it. Too bad Trico is inhibiting expansion and, thus, progress.

STEEL
STEEL

I replied directly to the comment

DTK2OD
DTK2OD

Not to sound like a broken record, but I mentioned this in the last post: Lackawanna is currently working on the first phase of its First Ward Brownfield Opportunity Area, which includes the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building site. They could and should invite Gateway Trade Center / Buffalo Crushed Stone to the table as a stakeholder to focus specifically on the re-use of this property. The BOA program provides a municipality with up to 90 percent of the total eligible project costs for such things as:

community visioning and other public participation processes; existing conditions analysis; strategic site identification; economic and market studies; investigations to assess site contamination and environmental conditions; site-specific redevelopment plans; infrastructure improvement studies, environmental impact assessments and statements; marketing to attract developer interest; local law changes; development standards and design guidelines; and other actions to spur investment in, clean-up of and redevelopment of brownfields and other underutilized sites.

This means there is money out there to engage the public, especially the younger generation of residents who only know Bethlehem Steel only as it exists today as an industrial relic rather than one of the largest employers in the region. I think it's ultimately these people that can look past the decay and see the opportunities in preserving and reusing buildings like this one.

The Boss
The Boss

it seems pretty simple, if city governments enforced codes thru strict fines, then building would have to kept safe and secure or they would have to sell or give the building away to someone willing to secure. It should never go as far as having a building falling down and forcing an emergency demo. That would just indicate a failure in code enforcement.

By the way, what is going on with the building in Cobblestone District that was so close to getting demo'd.

nick
nick

I know the building is privately owned, does anyone know if the entire Beth Steel site is still privately owned? If so, I don't see much hope for the site as there doesn't seem to be any effort to transform from its current port and light industrial use. No one is rehabbing that building unless the site use is altered.

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