Monday, May 18, 2020

White Elephant

By 1850, the Catholic population of Albany, New York had grown too large and needed a new church. Plans were drawn, funds raised, land secured, and then they went big. Three spires, the main one reaching 235 feet. The second largest organ in the country when it was installed. A bell tower in the main spire with ten bells. Three marble altars. A soaring Gothic church with 14,000 sq. feet of space under roof.

Completed in 1860, it served the needs of the Catholic community for over a century. It was magnificent.

Even in ruin, it is magnificent.

The community was shrinking by the 1970s. Maintenance was put off. Then put off again. The building was sold in 1981, but the new owner allowed the building to be used by the church. The last Mass held in the main church was in 1983. Parts of the building were used until 1994 by various groups.

At the time of the closure in 1994, there was a $2,000,000 estimate for immediate repairs to the roof, the stained glass, and the foundation. In 1996, the church bought the building back and there was a committee comprised of the church, some local preservation groups, and local and state government representatives to try to find a use for the building and raise money to do critical repairs.

It came to nothing.

In danger of collapsing, the city condemned the building in 2001, seized it by eminent domain  and emergency repairs to shore up the roof were made. $700,000 were spent to stabilize it and it was considered safe for use in 2007. Ownership moved to the Albany Historic Foundation, then to a non-profit that was supposed to make the church their headquarters and restore the building.

That came to nothing as well.

The treasurer of the group went to jail for financial fraud. Renovations were never done. The building, as of 2013, reverted to government ownership and remains there. It is beyond practical recovery. There is no community to make contributions and no will to do so.

Here's a one minute video of a drone flying up the outside of the main spire. The decay is evident. But it will also give you a sense of the scale of the building.

Now on to the inside.This was made by a couple of urban explorers. Whatever you think of this activity, they do a good job of capturing the church in it's current state.

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. --Ecc 3:1


Gorges Smythe said...


Glen Filthie said...

It is a building, an empty shell.

The real loss is in “spiritual capital”... and it is beyond estimating. It is no coincidence that many people from that part of the country are only empty shells too.

lee n. field said...

I've believed for quite a while that we're not as rich as we think we are.

Locally a local mainline Presbyterian church folded this past year. Membership had dwindled for a long time, even with merging with the other PCUSA congregation in town. And, they ran through their endowment money. They offered us (smallish church plant) their building (19 century limestone, tall steeple, stained glass), gratis. Alas, we would not have a prayer of being able to keep up with maintenance.

LindaG said...

I like urban explorers as long as they are only recording current historical facts, and not causing destruction.

In the future someone may wonder when it's no longer there, and now there is a record of sorts.

People in Louisiana do it a lot in New Orleans and other areas. The Charity Hospital comes to mind.

Unknown said...

The wife and I recently discovered that YouTube channel, "The Proper People".

I for one appreciate that even though they often must trespass to gain access to the places they explore and document, they are always respectful and go out of their way to avoid damaging the properties. In many cases, they don't show how they got in; anyone who would go in to vandalize will have to find their own way. And they do a great job researching the history of the places and telling the story.

Great stuff to watch. It is a shame about the church, though. Beautiful structure.

STxAR said...

Along Glen's line: I heard a story once, long ago. As one was looking at the vast wealth in the Vatican's treasury. The guide said, "We can no longer say, 'silver and gold, have I none.'" The man he spoke to replied, "Nor, 'But such as I have, give I thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.'"


LSP said...

What a remarkable building and what a tragedy, not least in terms of "spiritual capital."

Roy said...

Not all orphaned church buildings are because of a loss of “spiritual capital”. Sometimes the spiritual capital simply moves to another location. That is true for a lot of inner city churches. The older folks die off and the younger folks move to the burbs where they build another church. We have a church in our city called "Walnut Street Baptist Church." It is a large congregation but is no longer anywhere near Walnut Street.

And as far as "But such as I have, give I thee, in the name of Jesus Christ..." Did you notice that many of the stained glass windows in this church had the words "A gift from..." at the bottom. My great, great, grandparents donated a stained glass window to their "brand new" church building - in 1857. That church is in an urban neighborhood that was mostly German immigrants back in the day. It is much more diverse now and the church is still going strong.

Caddie said...

Yes, what a sad loss. Yet nothing lasts - nothing. What a beautiful creation it once was and much still salvageable for the right person.