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They Paved Paradise

What remains of St. Patrick’s church in Watervliet is not going down without a fight

by Erin Pihlaja on May 15, 2013

The last stand: St. Patrick’s bell tower. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.


Call it what you will—divine intervention, a stay of execution—but the resilient bell tower of St. Patrick’s church is just not coming down, as planned, anyway.

On Tuesday (May 14), a crane was transported, in pieces because of its size, to the demolition site in Watervliet, and the plan was to assemble it today to start the final phase of the controversial razing of the historic church. But, on Wednesday, progress halted abruptly at around noon. Crowds gathered in the sprinkling rain across the street from where crews were working and someone remarked that there was a mechanical malfunction.

A Watervliet police officer on the scene said that it would likely take the men all day to get the crane up, and that it was possible that demo might start later, but more believable that it would have to wait until the next morning. The rain, he added, was advantageous to controlling dust, but if there was any lightning, there was no chance that the crew would use the crane.

This wasn’t the first attempt to take down the 137-foot tower, part of the structure that was deemed unstable by the project’s developer, Nigro Companies. Last week, cables were attached to the tower and multiple backhoes attempted to pull it down. The only damage that resulted was to the cables themselves after they snapped. The demolition process has gone on for about a month. Once completed, the site will be the home of a 40,000 square-foot Price Chopper supermarket and a parking lot. As reported previously by Metroland, the church was a “Romanesque Revival modeled on the upper basilica of the Lourdes Sanctuary.” It was known by many as Watervliet’s only “building of distinction.”

Many, including the grassroots group Citizens For St. Patrick’s, tried desperately to stop the destruction of the beloved church. Coverage of the building and site, which includes a rectory and school, reached as far as The San Francisco Chronicle. Experts contested the declaration that the building was unstable, and preservationists filed law suits to halt the process—but all outside efforts eventually proved futile.

The tower, however, is giving those trying to destroy it hell.