As the bell tower of historic St. Patrick’s church was being demolished down to its foundation on Friday (May 17), Watervliet city workers were hanging banners on 19th Street lamp poles. The banners, one of them just across the road from the heaps of debris covering the former churchyard, read “Welcome: Historical Watervliet” and “Watervliet: Celebrating Heritage and Culture.” The dozen or so banners border the vicinity of an acre-wide demolition site containing the rubble of the 1891 church and rectory once regarded as the city’s historical and cultural centerpiece. This “celebration” is described as “bizarre” and “ridiculous and insulting” by members of Citizens for St. Patrick’s, the grassroots group that tried to save the church from the wrecking cranes. The 137-foot-high tower, the defining feature of the city’s skyline, required several attempts and a custom-rigged clamshell crane to bring down. The demolition is making way for a Price Chopper, two retail sites, and large parking lot. There are not, as yet, any signs of welcome for the new strip mall however.
A further irony is that preservationists had advocated for the possibility of a reuse that would utilize the architecturally significant church as a location and catalyst for cultural efforts for Watervliet, which is not generally known for being a banner city for culture. Demolition of the church school and an adjacent block of historic townhouses is expected next week. The city’s Memorial Day Parade traditionally makes a stop at St. Patrick’s church; Christine Bulmer of the Citizens group wonders if city officials “think the signage will distract the hundreds of marchers in the parade from the devastating and horrific sight at the corner of 19th and 6th streets,” a notion she describes as “surreal.”