A Criminal Loss to our Regional Heritage and Waterfront orchestrated by Steven Detwiler of Gateway Trade and supported by Lackawanna Mayor Szymanski

Owner of Bethlehem Steel Agreed to Sell Hours Before Demolition Began

Photo by Chrissy Lincoln, March 31, 2013.

Photo by Chrissy Lincoln, March 31, 2013.

Excerpts from the article originally published by Mike Puma, Views of Buffalo, March 12, 2013.

Concerned citizens, preservationists, and architecture buffs looked on in horror as wrecking equipment attacked the unique architectural features of the Bethlehem Steel Administration building Friday afternoon. A few quick blows to the ornate façade dashed all hope the building would be saved after months of hard work and countless hours by a group of dedicated people. Demolition was halted briefly after a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued, but resumed after the judge lifted the TRO last Friday.

Initially the demo began at the rear of the building and it appeared as though the demolition crew would work their way to the front. However, when the TRO was lifted the wrecking equipment moved to the front of the building. The crews smashed the large pediments, ripped off the ornate copper trimmed dormers, and punched holes all over the façade.

David Torke of fixBuffalo and others were fighting until the last minute to save the iconic structure and talks were going well. He explains, “I met with [the owner] Steven Detweiler at his home Thursday evening, contacted our legal team and with the cooperation of Judge Dillon’s law clerk we scheduled a settlement conference in NYS Supreme Court for the following morning.” Judge Dillion was receptive to the cause and indicated that he would clear his calendar. While discussing the a settlement with Detweiler, he agreed to sell the building to a new entity, a 501c3, for less than $100k. He’d already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell.

“All parties and their respective attorneys agreed to meet, which was the first time Steven Detweiler and Mayor Szymanski had been in the same room. Detweiler already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell. On Friday morning I sat down with the mayor and his father-in-law, Norm LeBlanc the City’s attorney.  During the next 90 minutes they were becoming allies in our struggle to save the building.  However, Steven Detweiler changed the terms, he demanded that we make a $200K, non-refundable deposit and complete all renovations to the building by the end of 2013” said Torke.

“Our attorney, Richard Berger appealed to Detweiler’s business sense and described how long and involved historic reuse planning and renovations often take, but Detweiler’s new demands were non-negotiable. He indicated that his demolition contractor was instructed to clean-up the back of the building and informed us that he’d keep channels open to a potential settlement through the day.”

Just a few hours later, Detweiler’s demolition crew began destroying the administration building with no further contact from Detweiler. The building was not only important to the greater story of America, but should have been important to Lackawanna, because Lackawanna Steel built the city as a company town. It’s not often you get the chance to point to a building and say, “this is why our city exists, this is genesis for us” and now the Steven Detweiler has ensured the people of Lackawanna never can. “What happened three hours later after our meeting was criminal,” Torke continued, “it was cultural rape and people should never forget that Steven Detweiler did this.”

Copper Crudely Torn Away Same Day as Meeting with Gateway Trade about Ownership Transfer

Copper elements torn out for selling as scrap; March 8, 2013, around 4:30pm. Photo by Darren Cotton.

Copper elements torn out for selling as scrap; March 8, 2013, around 4:30pm. Photo by Darren Cotton.

Bethlehem Steel nominated to National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List; Letter of Support by the Preservation League of NYS

“…there have been critically important changes to the plight of the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building that make the Preservation an enthusiastic supporter of the nomination to the National Trust’s “11 Most” program…”

Letter goes on to point to the detailed historical research completed by Dana Saylor and the testimony of Frank Kowsky; the active engagement of the community and the formation of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group as well as the participation by the well-established Campaign for Greater Buffalo; the professional team ready to work led by Barbara Campagna, FAIA; and the uncovering of the KHH engineering report concluding that the building is structurally sound.

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Demolition of Beth Steel Halted in NYS Supreme Court! Permit Issued Illegally without Proper Environmental Review

The NYS Supreme County papers stopping the demolition of Bethlehem Steel. Photo by David Torke.

The NYS Supreme County papers stopping the demolition of Bethlehem Steel. Photo by David Torke.

bs_profileThe Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) was pleased to learn that The Campaign for Buffalo – History, Architecture & Culture, Inc. today filed an Article 78 Proceeding in New York State Supreme Court, which placed a temporary restraining order on the demolition of the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna, New York.

Their petition maintains that the City of Lackawanna issued a demolition permit to the owner, GATEWAY TRADE CENTER, INC., on December 17, 2012, without performing environmental review as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The suit contends that the demolition permit is therefore a nullity in that it was issued illegally. The Campaign is seeking a permanent injunction on the demolition of the building until full compliance with SEQR is demonstrated. A hearing is scheduled before Hon. James H. Dillon for Wednesday, February 27th at 9:30 a.m.

Richard Berger, Esq., a local attorney with experience in environmental and preservation law, representing The Campaign, stated, “SEQR mandates all agencies of government to prepare an ‘Environmental Impact Statement on any action they propose or approve which may have a significant effect on the environment.’ Even actions which do not require a full Impact Statement, still require careful environmental review and findings. It appears that none was carried out in this instance. We hope that our filing today will halt the demolition of the Administration Building and lead to its ultimate restoration and reuse.”

Full press release: http://imsteelstanding.org/2013/02/21/feb-21-demolition-of-bethlehem-steel-halted-nys-state-court-press-release/.

Past News

Previously Withheld Structural Report Uncovered by Citizens; Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group Sues to Stop Demolition

Save Bethlehem Steel supporters at the City Court Hearing, February 13, 2013. Photo by Brian Pickard.

Save Bethlehem Steel supporters at the Lackawanna City Court Hearing regarding the Uncovered Engineering Report, February 13, 2013. Photo by Brian Pickard.

Bethlehem Steel Building is Structurally Sound;
Citizens to File Suit to Stop Demolition!

The 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration Building is structurally sound, according to an August engineering report which was withheld from the courts by the City of Lackawanna, and by building owner Gateway Trade and Steven Detwiler.

The report, dated August 2012, included a complete walk-through of the building by an independent structural engineering firm which counters the City of Lackawanna’s claims that the building is a threat to public safety. “We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse.”

The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group will file a lawsuit with the City of Lackawanna Court on Friday, February 8th, calling for Gateway Trade to cease all demolition activities until an investigation can take place. Well-known attorney Richard Berger, whose previous work includes environmental justice around Love Canal issues in Niagara Falls, and various preservation projects around Buffalo, will file on behalf of Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group.

The group would like to complete an adaptive reuse study involving one the nation’s most important and neglected architectural and cultural assets. The purpose is to create jobs and facilitate economic development along the waterfront. Numerous developers, architects and consultants have expressed interest in the building.

Browse and Download Press Kit Below

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Our Professional Team is Ready! There is Funding!

The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) has engaged the services of a team of well-respected preservation and planning professionals. The group, funded in part by a private donation, will assist in creating both feasibility and adaptive reuse studies for the 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. Declared structurally sound by an August engineering report, LIHG wants to show the public just what is possible at the site.

One of the team members is Barbara Campagna, formerly the Chief Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a board member at the successful Richardson Olmsted Complex. She said, “We will create a plan for near and long-term development of this historic site by combining contemporary ideas and needs with a respect for our 20th century industrial story, providing cultural and economic benefits to the Lackawanna and Buffalo Niagara region residents and a destination for ever-increasing cultural heritage visitors. By preparing a comprehensive Feasibility & Adaptive Reuse Study, we will be using time tested planning tools to develop a responsible and sustainable approach towards the reinvention of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.

The building has everything we need to tell the story of our industrial heritage, connect it to our expanding and dynamic waterfront and demonstrate how preservation is one of the building blocks of economic revitalization in America and in Western New York.  The Richardson Olmsted Complex, the Martin House, Larkinville, the Central Terminal.  These were all places that had languished and deteriorated for decades but are now key to the remaking of Buffalo. Having spent the past 30 years involved in saving and rethinking the Richardson Olmsted Complex, I’m thrilled to have been asked to assist in the visioning of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.”

Demolition has Begun at the Back

January 24, 2012: The start of the demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. Photo by David Torke.

January 24, 2012: The start of the demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. Photo by David Torke.

Building Significance and Brief “How we got here”

The Bethlehem Steel Administration Building (ca. 1901) is one of the most iconic buildings of our regional industrial heritage. What happened in this building literally built America and was a major supplier of steel to the United States armed forces in WWI and WWII, influencing our victories. It has been determined National Register eligible for it’s association with the history and technology of steel making, the tens of thousands of workers employed and the lives and communities they created in Western New York, as well as the architectural details of the building itself.

The Mayor of Lackawanna is the driving force for demolition, calling for a demo order, threatening fines upon the owner, and avoiding all discussion about reuse options. We can only change his entrenched position through citizen action. The current owners of the building, Gateway Trade, have been delinquent in building maintenance and appear relieved that demolition is on the horizon. Disrespectful and short-sighted jurisdiction of the Mayor, and a delinquent maintenance plan and pleads of ignorance from the owners cannot be accepted. More about current events leading up to demolition.

Share your Voice

We must turn our anger and hurt into action. Call, leave your name and city (national calls are welcome!), and your message in opposition of demolition of Bethlehem Steel and urging the Mayor to revoke the demolition order:
  • Call Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski at 716-827-6464. Ask to speak to or leave a message for the Mayor. You might be put on hold indefinitely, call again, or email mayor@lackny.com.
  • Call owner of the building Steve Detwiler of Gateway Trade at 716-826-7310. If it’s after hours, try to leave a message, or ask to be transferred to sales, they always answer sales inquiries! Or call and leave a message at 716-662-1555.
We must show and act upon these basic principles in order to preserve our collective culture:
  • Preservation is economic development. The site was and can be a place for good-paying prideful jobs, during and after rehabilitation. The area has recently seen millions of reinvestment in transportation and recreation infrastructure along the waterfront.
  • Demolition is not progress. There are no plans for use of this site once vacant. But we have reuse plans and have professionals ready to help secure a National Register nomination and Historic Tax Credits.
  • The Mayor is throwing away the past and future of his hometown. Even as he touts it’s heritage as a reason to live there. His appetite for demolition and lack of transparency defies his position as Mayor.
  • The owners have been negligent. Gateway Trade, owners of the building, rejected interested developers and the help of numerous preservation groups. The treatment of this building by an individual would have levied citations long ago.
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26 comments

  1. Meagan Baco

    The Bethlehem Steel building is of national significance based on the company’s influence in our victories in WWI and WWII, and the fact that it employed 20,000+ workers that have made Western New York what it is today – probably including your community. Not to mention, this is a carefully designed and well-detailed building that shows no signs of real structural issues. We support the preservation of Beth Steel until a reuse plan can be determined, otherwise it will be gone forever and an empty lot forever.

  2. Casey William Milbrand

    Yes this building really should come down! It’s Crappy! If you are saying anything like this then you probably don’t know very much about architecture or you haven’t traveled around the world. This building represents an amazing moment in our history and is probably more fit than any other in Buffalo/Lackawanna to be reused as a catalyst for future waterfront development. Other cities WISH they had buildings like this! Could you imagine riding your bike along the waterfront and ending up at a renovated Bethlehem Steel Building that included a museum showcasing the fantastic history we have AND the rest of the building becomes a NEW community center? I know I could! It’s time that people in the community (citizens and politicians) and not just preservationists start helping with the fight to save our infrastructure!

    • JERRY

      if this building is so important? where was everyone 15/20 years ago , all of a sudden it’s being tore down and now everyone is bitching, ONLY IN WNY

  3. Casey William Milbrand

    Well Jerry unfortunately 15 and 20 years ago most of us were growing up going to Buffalo Public Schools and learning about all the mistakes the generations before us have made when…THEY tore DOWN amazing Buildings. Now a younger generation of Buffalonians are putting their PRIDE to use and are actually trying to get things done…So I guess most of us were preservationists in training back then. The campaign to save this building didn’t happen overnight. What has happened overnight is the DESIRE by Lackawanna to tear down the building for no reason.

    • jerry

      it should have been torn down a long time ago, along with all of the grain elavators,go down the buffalo river and look at the grain elevators they are a sorry site,same goes for the one at southend marina,

      • jerry

        i grew up on the lower end of lackawanna and my dad worked at the plant,doesn’t mean i have to like what is happening in our area, grow up and get a life in this year , not in the 50S and 60S,

      • Yoshi

        Historic sites can lead to a growth in the tourist industry. People come from all over to visit places like Savannah, GA or Charleston, SC and the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA. We need something to draw outsiders and historic preservation is a great way to do it. We need a way to boost our economy and not continue down this path to nothing.

  4. grittybLinda

    No, Jerry, not “only in WNY”. There are people fighting preservation battles all over this country EVERY DAY. For more information, you might want to go to http://www.preservationnation.org/ …the web site for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Many cities, towns, and villages have preservation boards or commissions which recognize the significance of buildings such as this one and are working to preserve the history of this country and to educate future generations on its significance and it’s relevance and usefulness TODAY. The most sustainable thing we can do is use what we already have.

    • jerry

      tear them all down,this is the 20th century most of the old building are no more than a sore , thats why old plant office is coming down, i uesd to live no moe than 1000 yards from it, it serverd it’s purpose

    • THOMAS MIERZWA

      THEN GO WORLDWIDE AND TEAR DOWN THE SPHINX, THE PYRAMIDS, THE COLISEUM, THE VATICAN AND THE BASILICA. SURELY A STRUCTURE OVER 3,000 YEARS OLD MEANS NOTHING

  5. aps

    Jerry,

    These buildings aren’t an eyesore. Rather they have been poorly maintained and therefore have fallen into disrepair. You should try and shift your thinking more positively and focus on what they could offer. The Grain Elevators have enormous historical significance which you can learn about by reading Reyner Banham’s Concrete Atlantis.

    Perhaps you could elucidate more clearly for all us why you would like to see the buildings torn down besides ‘tear them down, this is the 20th century)’

    Lastly, it’s the 21st Century, where in which preservation is cool.

    Sorry dude.

  6. john

    if you want it saved step up to the plate with your cash,this area has no cash for this kind of stuff,but i have no problem with saving it as long as you pay the bill and not the taxpayers

  7. RaChaCha

    Hey Jerry (or is it Georry?), you sound just like that mayor of yours — in fact, almost word-for-word. Hmmm…

  8. Rick Rowlands

    Jerry, you are not being forced to participate in any way in this project, so please leave these fine folks alone to pursue a project that is important to them. I am sure they will respect your life and the decisions that you have made to live your life. We respectfully ask that you respect this effort and if you cannot say anything good at least say nothing at all. The busybody mentality of many people in this country is one reason why we have so many problems these days.

  9. Ned Rifkin

    Perfect, Jerry. Your entire case you are pitching – not to mention your poor grammar, spelling, and ignorance as to what century it is – represents very well the basics of the side you are defending. Bravo.

  10. dave

    Where were you people when the building was falling apart and abandoned for all these years? Now that this building is going to be knocked down you want to save it. That’s why this area is so run down every time somebody wants to knock something down you nut bags come out of the word work to stop this area from moving forward.Why don’t you spend your time talking about the workers who worked at BHS who have CANCER and have died from CANCER because of working there.That is more important then saving that dump of a building. And then you want my tax dollars going to save that cymbal of all the jobs lost and sick people. Has a tax payer i get a say to and i say KNOCK IT DOWN.

  11. David Watson

    30 plus years ago a single woman stepped in front of bulldozer to prevent one of the oldest buildings in downtown Galveston from being torn down. That building is now the centerpiece of a revitalized downtown and a National Register Historic District. That single act set in motion the restoration and redevelopment of downtown. A once crumbling historic downtown area is now home to diverse events including Dickens on the Strand, Lone Star Biker Rally, Mardi Gras, and a vital cruise ship traffic as well as many businesses, restaurants, and residences. The history and architecture of the downtown is the reason hundreds of thousands of people flock to this area yearly. It does not happen overnight. It takes work from a lot of people over time. Where once the sidewalks had so much grass growing through them they required mowing, the area is now vibrant with activity. It starts with one iconic building and a dream. You have that opportunity. Seize upon it and begin the work to revitalize the area with such an amazing structure. That “old building” has so much to offer. Dare to dream.

  12. Doris Callins

    More than 20 years ago, Lackawanna had a city architect,(my apology for not remembering his name) who had plans for making the Bethlehem Steel Administration building the new city hall of Lackawanna. Needless to say, the city fathers preferred that ugly monstrocity on Ridge Road that is the possibly one of the worst examples of an add-on in the United States. One can only suffer embarrassement when driving or walking by, especially with visitors who come to see the Basilica and the Botanical Gardens.

    • jerry

      20 years ago i would have agreed with you Doris,city hall looks terrible,but at this point it would cost way to much money to do it

  13. Ned Rifkin

    To steal some words from a reader on Buffalo Rising:

    “For people wondering why this building wasn’t addressed years ago, there are multiple reasons:
    1. It was, you didn’t hear about it. Efforts are often made long before the internet makes you think it started yesterday.
    2. Various restoration programs and tax credits didn’t exist at the time like they do now.
    3. A new generation of people is just now seeing the value and getting involved.
    4. It is difficult to make change, even with money, if you have leadership/owners that are unwilling to negotiate or sell”

  14. dave

    What are you crazy ass people going to do now that the building is gone? How about get a life. My work is done here!

  15. Been There done that

    Vacant buildings and valueless property in WNY is that way for a reason. The economic engines of the past died and their demise was accceelrated by the policies of the left (High taxes, over regulation etc). This poor business atmosphere acts as a barrier against new business and economic engines to consider locating to NYS and kill the hope that a new economy can replace the old one.
    My experineces are that a large proportion of avid preservationsists lean left, perhaps it is time they realize that their ilk has really helped create the hopeless economy in upstate NY that resulted in all the old buildings tehy covet being demolished. The chickens are coming home to roost.

    • jerry

      the sad thing is that the preservationsists are always to late, they wanr=t to save something that is totally useless , but they will always babble on, they lost with the building next to panos , they lost with the grain elevator where the casino is and they als lost with the other partial elevator , give it up you’re useless

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