Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Community fortifies a landmark church

$150,000 raised to preserve St. Joseph's for alternative use

Times Union Staff writer
First published Thursday, July 12, 2007

ALBANY -- The pews are long gone, the stained-glass windows are missing paint, and Mass has not been held there in 14 years.

But the mood is still celebratory at St. Joseph's Church, the empty building whose towering steeple is an Albany landmark. Citizens, organized as Committee 150, are celebrating that they've reached their goal of raising $150,000 to stabilize, and thus save, the building.

"We don't know ultimately how the building will be used," said Colleen Ryan, who co-founded Committee 150 with Elizabeth Griffin. "We just want to make sure the building remains standing until someone comes along with a good idea."

In 1994, the Albany Diocese closed the church, saying there were not enough parishioners to keep it open, but preservationists don't want to lose such a central feature of the neighborhood.

"The Ten Broeck Triangle would be totally and completely different without this jewel in the middle of it," Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said at the reception to celebrate the effort. "This magnificent structure once held 1,000 individuals, and you had to get here at 11 p.m. to get a seat for midnight Mass."

In 2001, Mayor Jerry Jennings had the property seized from its then-owner, a local businesswoman who bought the church from the diocese and planned to turn it into a banquet hall. The Historic Albany Foundation, which now owns the former church, received a $300,000 state grant in 2003 for repairs, but it needed to raise a matching amount.

The foundation raised some money on its own, leaving about a $60,000 shortfall.

Susan Holland, the foundation's executive director, praised the efforts of Committee 150.

"It's wonderful they were able to engage over 1,100 people in this community to give money to this site," she said.

Investment counselor Candace King Weir, owner of C.L. King & Associates, donated $50,000, pledging to give $1 for every $2 raised.

"I have a great love of historic preservation," she said. "I've always admired St. Joseph's. How can you not support this? We don't have that many really special buildings in this area."

A new roof has been built and repairs made to the masonry by the entrance. A support column in danger of collapse also was fixed.

"This column had actually failed, and the roof had dropped two feet," Ryan said.

The Historic Albany Foundation took on the work because St. Joseph's is such an important piece of architecture, Holland said.

"It is an integral part of the skyline of Albany," she said. "You can see it from any direction."

The foundation plans to conduct a feasibility study to determine how much money it would take to restore the church for another use. It does not intend to reopen the building itself.

"Our hope is that by putting together a tool kit for restoration, we could get it ready for somebody," she said.

Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and a past president of the Historic Albany Foundation, praised the efforts during the reception.

"Your ingenuity in doing this is really inspiring," she said. "You are not alone. There are other communities that are trying to save their churches but you are rare. ... Most nonprofits are working with active churches."

In New York City, she said, developers are trying to buy up churches to build high-rise condominiums, and parishioners are fighting to save St. Brigid's Catholic Church in New York City from being closed.

Like St. Joseph's and Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, that church was designed by famed architect Patrick Keely. A native of Ireland, Keely designed hundreds of churches in the United States.

Committee 150's
efforts could be an inspiration to others, Breen said.

"You should take this on the road," she said. "Losing religious structures diminishes us all."

All these efforts, however, are just to keep the building from deteriorating. It doesn't begin to restore St. Joseph's for future use.

"It's not like it stops there," Ryan said.

Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cheers to Committee 150!

Remarks at St. Joseph’s Church by Colleen Ryan
June 28, 2007

It’s hard to believe that one year ago, Committee 150 was just an idea.

St. Joseph’s Church is one of Albany’s great landmarks. This building – begun in 1856 – defines the neighborhood in which it stands, and its steeple – added in 1906 – is the most visible element in Albany’s northern skyline.

Situated near the eighteenth-century Ten Broeck Mansion, and in the center of the National Register-listed Ten Broeck Triangle Historic District, this building’s architectural merits are not in question.

Still, just a few years ago, St. Joseph’s future was uncertain.


Shortly after taking ownership of the building in 2003, Historic Albany Foundation convened a series of public meetings in buildings near the church to discuss the potential for re-use.

The St. Joseph’s Re-Use Committee, chaired by Matt Bender, documented suggestions including a public library branch; a computer facility; a history museum focusing on the immigrant experience or the Underground Railroad; a school for restoration technology; or an urban education institute in conjunction with a local college.

The first priority, however, was to stabilize the building and prevent further damage.


Last spring, Elizabeth Griffin came to me with an ambitious idea: to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of St. Joseph’s Church by raising $150,000. In May, 2006, you pledged your support to Committee 150, and together, we set out to do just that.

As of this date, Committee 150 has raised $150,151.

Many people said it couldn’t be done … And it wouldn’t have happened without a generous leadership grant of $50,000 from Mrs. Candace King Weir. Her commitment during the quiet phase of this campaign allowed us to issue a challenge to potential Committee 150 members … that each two dollars they raised or contributed would be matched by $1 from Mrs. Weir.

Thank you, Mrs. Weir, for believing in us and helping us meet our goal.


Special thanks are also due to Mayor Gerald Jennings and the City of Albany, for ensuring that St. Joseph’s remained standing long enough for us to work on saving it!

Late in 2001, Mayor Jennings authorized emergency stabilization work, and seized the building from the owners who had failed to make repairs. We all owe the city a debt of gratitude for recognizing the significance of this building, and for taking steps to ensure its survival.

The Mayor was here earlier, and while his busy schedule prevented him from staying for tonight’s program, I hope you will thank him when you see him.


We are grateful also to the corporate sponsors who made tonight’s celebration possible, in more ways than one. In addition to underwriting the cost of tonight’s event, these organizations have done the stabilization work that allows us to stand in this building right now.

Please join me in thanking

  • All-American Masonry, Inc.
  • Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt
  • Mid-State Industries, Ltd.
  • Reeves Engineering
  • Safway Services, Inc.
  • John G. Waite, Associates and
  • Western Building Restoration.


Let’s also give a round of applause to two local business owners whose generosity to this and other neighborhood causes is simply unmatched – Chuck Kuhtic from the Morgan State House and Brad Junco from Capital Wine & Spirits.


I would like to sincerely thank Committee 150 co-founder, Elizabeth Griffin, and the other members of the steering committee, Bill Brandow, Chuck Kuhtic, Mac Mowbray, and Erin Tobin, for their commitment to seeing this project through. Each brought their own particular brand of energy, enthusiasm, and expertise to this cause – and each makes this neighborhood, and this city, a better place to live through their good efforts.

I should also offer a special thank you to our spouses, partners and friends who supported us in this effort and attended innumerable parties with us … I promise, after tonight, we’re done!!!


Last – but certainly not least – we would like to thank each of you, the members of Committee 150. You truly rose to the challenge issued in 2002 by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and helped match their $300,000 stabilization grant to Historic Albany Foundation.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should all blush to learn that several additional parties are planned in coming months to raise the final portion of the match.


Committee 150 set out to raise funds, raise awareness, and imagine the possibilities for re-use of this magnificent historic and cultural resource. But along the way, Committee 150 has grown into a much broader effort, and created a core group of stakeholders who are committed to protecting St. Joseph’s church and the unique and irreplaceable historic fabric of the City of Albany.

Ultimately, Committee 150’s many achievements would not have been possible without you. Whether you made a donation or organized a party, we have you to thank for the critically-needed stabilization of the roof and masonry of this building. You have sent a message – loud and clear – that we owe it to future generations to invest in and rescue our old, abandoned buildings.

Thank you all for helping to ensure that St. Joseph’s will continue to stand as a beacon of hope, and a symbol of what people can achieve when they work together.

Now, please join me in a truly heartfelt toast …

Cheers to Committee 150!