Immaculate Conception RC Church / Assembly House 150
150 Edward Street, Buffalo, New York
In Allentown Preservation District
Assembly House 150 - Official Website
After a Decade of Decline, an Abandoned Church Finds Its Meaning
By Colin Dabkowski
April 5, 2014
The Buffalo News
Inside the former Immaculate Conception Church at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Edward Street, where the last Mass was held on a midsummer Sunday in 2005, a dozen squares of plywood paneling hang on the walls in place of the stations of the cross.
Slivers of blue sky are visible through holes in the church’s roof, through which water has trickled into the building for years on either side of the empty sanctuary, warping its wooden columns and causing the plaster to flake away like dry skin. Polycarbonate panels cover many of the remaining stained glass windows, though most of the church’s chandeliers and wooden pews remain perfectly intact.
Given the deplorable state of Buffalo’s many disused churches, the structurally sound Immaculate Conception is in remarkably good shape. Which is why Dennis Maher, a Buffalo architect, artist and teacher whose work reorganizes the detritus of Buffalo’s past into radical visions of its future, purchased it earlier this week for $35,000.
He plans to convert it into a living laboratory for artistic and architectural experimentation, a place he calls “A Center for the Urban Imaginary” designed to nurture the city’s collective imagination.
Assembly House 150, as Maher is retitling the former church, will house classroom space for students, a gallery and studio where artists and tradespeople will collaborate on architectural and artistic projects and a for-profit design and building studio that will help foster a new crop of buildings in the city.
Assembly House is an extension of his ongoing Fargo House project, Maher’s home and studio on the West Side that he has turned into a fascinating living sculpture. As word gets out about his Fargo House project, Maher is getting more and more requests from arts educators and others who want to tour the space. The church, he said, will allow more of the public to view and participate in the work.
In addition to the educational prospects of Assembly House 150, the project also represents a happy achievement in the local preservation movement. For a constellation of complex reasons, from stringent church regulations to historic preservation standards and new building codes, old churches are notoriously difficult and expensive to successfully repurpose.
Maher was able to clinch this property with the help of local real estate agent J-M Reed, a fellow artist and a behind-the-scenes leader in the Buffalo preservation movement. After years of potential buyers and plans that turned out to be unfeasible, Reed convinced the owner of the church and its adjoining rectory to split up the parcels and sell them individually. On the strength of his idea, Maher was able to get the property at a steal.
Maher’s plans for the church are in some ways as grandiose as those of its original builders, who saw the building as a tribute to a higher power. In his view and that of his collaborators, Assembly House 150 is not only a meeting place for educators, students, artists, thinkers and builders, but a living temple to the human imagination.