Published February 9, 2009
The census numbers are predicted to push even further down during the past decade than the decline between 1990 and 2000. While we have recognized our inability to sustain services to abandoned areas of the city with the 2010 plan, when will we acknowledge that, in order to survive, we must reverse our shrinkage?
This blog has tipped its hat to the many reasons to believe in Youngstown's future: the resiliency of its people, the promise of its Business Incubator, the improvement in its Congressional representation, the exposure and prosecution of its widespread corruption at the turn of the century, and the number of people who have returned here and are ready to fight for its rebirth.
There is one invaluable prize in Youngstown's possession that must not be relinquished. That is its history. Sadly, it has been chipped away at, historic building by historic building, as the downtown skyline, practically intact in the 80s has become a faded glimmer of its former self. Building by building, Federal Street has been labeled unsalvageable and demolished for parking lots and, frequently, poorly designed replacements.
Certainly, there is a sad reality to vacant and abandoned structures that have known only neglect. There is a point of no return where the wrecking ball must sometimes be summoned. There is, however, too often a hasty push to tear down what due diligence might have saved. If better marketed or more creatively negotiated, deals might have been found for the reuse of some of these buildings.
We have an opportunity, dear reader, to step in and assert ourselves toward the preservation of one such structure. As reported Friday in The Vindicator, Youngstown State University has plans to demolish the Pilgrim Collegiate Church, on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Wick, by the end of June to make way for a parking lot.
YSU bought the building in 2007 with the expectation that the New Beginnings congregation would continue to lease the sanctuary, but the church has moved to a space on Midlothian. They also announced plans at the time to convert space for use as offices and possibly classrooms. Now, however, the University has decided that the building is not suitable for its needs.
The University understandably wants to control the entire block (the lone exception at this point is Campus Book and Supply). Several folks I've spoken with about the issue contend that the University purchased the space with the best intentions and things simply haven't worked out. At the same time, we as a community castigate carpetbaggers who purchase structures, intending to use them, then for whatever reason abandon them, prompting their demolition. Should YSU be held to a different standard here?
Also, as a graduate of YSU, I am well aware of the parking issues on campus and the desirability of creating additional space for vehicles. There's talk of tearing down one of the existing garages, due to age, if I understand correctly. This would obviously, if only until a replacement was built, further exacerbate the parking issue. Additional parking spaces across from Jones Hall would be ideal for YSU, but at what cost? And have other alternatives been pursued?
The structure was built and dedicated during Youngstown's Golden Age by Kling, Zenk and Kling (architects). Herman Kling also built St. Paul's and St. Anne's churches in Brier Hill, Sharon's Grand Opera House, the Vindicator Building, and the Washington and McKinley schools. The windows are remarkable, and the architecture fits well with the Wick Avenue cultural corridor that also boasts the historic Main Library, St. John's Episcopal Church, the Wick-Arms Manor House, the Butler North Church, and the Butler Museum, not to mention Jones Hall itself.
Furthermore, the decision to demolish the building stands in stark contrast to the University's own Centennial Plan, which states a goal to "Reestablish the 'Victorian Lawns' on Wick Avenue by relocating parking lots behind building lines and screening them from street view and by restoring tree lawns and simple, visible sidewalk alignments."
While we must deal squarely with the reality of tackling blight where it exists, there are plenty of structures in disrepair that we will be tearing down. Let us preserve the history we yet retain, especially where there is no structural cause to strike down the building.
The University must postpone the scheduled demolition of the Pilgrim Collegiate Church and devote time and energy to pursuing a tenant or other reuse strategy rather than hastily deciding on the building's demolition.