Threatened: International Style Church
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Jan. 27, 2010
Salem, Mass., may not be famous for its modern architecture, but that's exactly why some locals want to save an International Style church slated to be torn down for an apartment building.
The Archdiocese of Boston closed St. Joseph Church in 2004. Its subsidiary, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, now owns the two-acre property, which includes the 1948 church, a rectory, convent, and school. It wants to demolish both the sanctuary and the convent and replace them with a 65-unit residential complex.
But their plans hit a road block earlier this month, when the Massachusetts Historical Commission ruled that loss of the church would have an "adverse impact" on the site. The Jan. 14 ruling triggered a review process in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Although the church could still be demolished, the owner will now have to officially consider alternatives to demolition before moving forward with the project.
"We don't see the adverse impact ruling as something negative, but just a common recognition between us and the state that we're making a change at the site," Molly Ekerdt, project manager at the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, told the Salem-News.
In the past four years, a group of two dozen residents has filed four lawsuits against the owner to stop the project. "Not every church in New England is the typical white clapboard church," says Joseph Carr, a local lawyer who represents the group pro bono. St. Joseph's epitomizes "an important architectural style, and it's rare, and for that reason it should be preserved." Besides, Carr says, "the architecture they have chosen to replace it with is banal."
The Section 106 process does not ensure that St. Joseph Church will be saved. "It'll be interesting to see what happens," says Emily Udy, preservation project manager at Historic Salem, Inc., which placed the church on its list of the town's most endangered historic places in 2004. "There has been a church on that site for over 100 years. That building itself is really unique to the area; it's gorgeous."
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