Special Report: Heritage

James Street Baptist 'Alteration' in Pictures

Most of James Street Baptist Church is coming down. Only the eastern facade and tower will be saved.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 06, 2014

this article has been updated

The good news is that James Street Baptist Church is not being demolished. The City issued a building "minor alteration" permit, not a demolition permit. The bad news is that 80% of the building is being altered out of existence. Only the tower and the eastern facade, which face James Street, will be retained.

James Baptist east facade and tower on James (RTH file photo)
James Baptist east facade and tower on James (RTH file photo)

The demolition alteration-out-of-existence work began in mid-May, when hoarding went up around the building and Jackson Street was closed to automobile traffic just west of James.

May 20: hoarding up around the building
May 20: hoarding up around the building

May 21: Removing the roof shingles
May 21: Removing the roof shingles

Workers started by removing the roof shingles on the western side of the building, letting them fall to the ground to break up rather than saving them. By the end of May, the roof had a large hole and the upper part of the north-facing facade was open.

May 29: Large hole in the roof
May 29: Large hole in the roof

May 30: North facade coming down
May 30: North facade coming down

June 4: extensive roof removal
June 4: extensive roof removal

The work progressed significantly today, with a large section of the north and east walls knocked down.

June 6: North wall being removed
June 6: North wall being removed

The sky is visible through the opposite wall
The sky is visible through the opposite wall

The demolition alteration generated a large cloud of dust. Workers sprayed water from a fire hose on Jackson Street, but the dust triggered a fire alarm in the next-door building on Jackson and evacuated its occupants. A fire truck was dispatched to the scene.

From dust to dust
From dust to dust

Dust in the laneway west of James Baptist
Dust in the laneway west of James Baptist

The pictured worker was not wearing a breathing mask.
The pictured worker was not wearing a breathing mask.

just before 11:00 AM, an even larger cloud of dust, several storeys in height, rose from the demolition alteration site.

Large cloud of dust several storeys in height rising from the James Baptist site (Image Credit: Eric McGuinness)
Large cloud of dust several storeys in height rising from the James Baptist site (Image Credit: Eric McGuinness)

By noon, the building was more or less demolished, save for the east tower and facade, which is not being demolished minorly altered out of existence.

By noon, the building was pretty much gone
By noon, the building was pretty much gone

All that remains is the east facade and tower
All that remains is the east facade and tower

The pipe organ was removed over the winter and donated to Northern Organs, with the understanding that they will store it until they find another church willing to take it and will only charge their expenses to transport and install it. In addition, several windows, including a large transept window, have also been removed intact.

Otherwise, it is not clear what, if anything, is being saved from the destruction of this heritage treasure. It looks like the beautiful pink granite arcade columns, flanking arches and polished wooden vaults are simply being knocked down rather than retained.

Background

James Baptist was designed by Joseph Connolly and built between 1878 and 1882. Connolly trained under architect James Joseph McCarthy, regarded as the "Irish Pugin" because he embraced the principles of church architecture laid down by the famed Gothic architect Augustus Welby Pugin.

James Street Baptist was the only non-Catholic church Connolly designed. One motivation for its impressive design was a friendly competition with St. Paul's Presbyterian Church on the other side of Jackson, which had set the bar high for architectural distinction.

The building went up for sale in summer 2012 and was sold in early 2013 to Stanton Renaissance for $610,000. The company partnered with Hamilton-based McCallum Sather Architects to redevelop the property.

Stanton Renaissance submitted a 129-page report requesting a demolition permit in September, arguing that poor construction and maintenance had resulted in structural problems that required a partial demolition.

Company president Louie Santaguida argued in an interview in October, "The extent of the damage to the building's structural integrity was not known at the time of purchase, and after engineers completed an intrusive investigation, the structure was deemed unsound."

The City issued a "minor alteration" permit to demolish minorly alter 80 percent of the building, a staff decision that has raised some serious questions about the process that was followed.

Stanton Renaissance has not yet submitted any redevelopment plans to the City.


Update: updated to add a photo from Eric McGuinness, used with permission. You can jump to the added photo.

Update 2: updated to note that a large transept window was removed intact from the building yesterday. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Update 3: updated to add photos taken at noon, after most of the building had been taken down. You can jump to the added photographs.

Update 4: the article incorrectly identified the church next door as St. Paul's Anglican Church. It is actually St. Paul's Presbyterian Church. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

31 Comments

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By Jeff Goodes (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 10:33:46

Much like the dust from the demolition, the church and the city got hosed.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 14:18:51 in reply to Comment 102109

My only hope is that the people involved in this travesty will get hosed too. The 'developer' isn't exactly known for paying his bills.

Comment edited by highwater on 2014-06-06 14:20:32

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By archimatect (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 11:25:44

Disclosure: I work for the architecture firm responsible for the design of this building.

Unfortunately, after years and years of not being maintained there wasn't much that could be done with a majority of the structure. That is, without spending tens of millions of dollars (which people weren't exactly lining up to do). Much of the building was actually on the verge of collapse and it wasn't uncommon for the Reverend to enter his office in the morning to find pieces of the building on his desk that had fallen from above.

To answer your concern about what is being saved, there is quite a lot being saved. Many of the windows are being saved - check out the images from yesterdays HUGE accomplishment of removing a beautiful, two-and-a-half storey transept window completely intact! (Did you see it? It's incredibly impressive). The church trustees were so happy with the result, they hugged the workers and architects. Some of the shingles and stone are also being reclaimed to be used in the design.

I agree, it is sad that this building is coming down, but the majority was past the point of being saved (some of the north wall was actually dismantled by hand.) It's just the reality of it.

But, the good news is that a third of the building is being saved (and restored at a great cost). A retail portion going in on the ground floor will open up the building so that it can be enjoyed from the interior, as well as the exterior, seven days a week by everyone, instead of just once a week by a small group of people.

I promise you that the people working on this care about Hamilton and about this building, and are doing their best to design something that will enrich the city. I hope that by the time the building is finished, you will feel that that has been accomplished.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2014 at 13:22:11 in reply to Comment 102111

I realize that others disagree, but personally my biggest problem with this process isn't the partial demolition of the allegedly unstable and unsafe church - my problem is the way the City has bungled this process.

If this really is the best plan for James St. Baptist church, then so be it. But if the city has do describe this work as a "minor alteration" instead of a partial demolition in order to proceed, then something stinks.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 07, 2014 at 08:07:41 in reply to Comment 102119

With you on that one. All we've heard is about how the minister, the congregation, the groundskeeper, everyone was saying that it was in a frighteningly dangerous condition. However, taking down more than half of the site isn't minor. This isn't taking down a section of wall for an addition or reconfiguring the roof.

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By Jeff Goodes (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:59:51 in reply to Comment 102111

Archimatect,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate the challenges in dealing with extremely old buildings such as these. I also appreciate the efforts made to save what you did. But I still can't help but thinking that Stanton Renaissance must have had some knowledge of the building's condition before they finalized the sale of the building. When a potential homeowner puts in an offer to buy a house, a home inspection is part of the deal. Presumably this was true in this case as well, particularly when, as you mention in your comment, the church's Reverend used to find pieces of the building on his desk. My question is why were the initial statements so optimistic?

For example: from RTH February 8, 2013: "The client did not buy the property to tear the building down - absolutely not. They could buy property anywhere and develop it. They bought it with the intent of using this special part of Hamilton's cultural urban fabric....It's such a unique building. They want to work with the bones that are there and make it sustainable, so we have this part of our history in Hamilton or another 100 years."

It's puzzling to me. But I think more importantly, it points to a need for the city to take a more active role in managing and protecting our heritage. The commercial real estate market in Hamilton is heating up and the city needs to be ready to protect our architectural assets in response to this growing demand.



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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:35:55 in reply to Comment 102111

Thank you for taking the time to reply. It is good to know about the window and other elements being saved.

Perhaps you could also shed some light on what is being done to stabilize the remaining east wall of the church. I would expect that engineering drawings would be required to obtain the building permit for partial demolition, but have not been able to find out if any drawings were submitted. I'd also like to know if any building inspectors are on site, and how often.

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2014 at 11:47:08 in reply to Comment 102111

That's certainly good to hear. Any chance of locals getting their hands on some salvaged materials (in the great tradition of reusing great-building materials at home)? Some of that cladding stone sure would look good in a back yard…

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By Fiveway (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:14:17 in reply to Comment 102112

Count me in for this if it happens! I need garden stones.

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By archimatect (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:01:02 in reply to Comment 102112

I'm not sure, but I will ask. I know some of the pews were taken by people and used in their homes. I think the Connolly twitter feed posted a photo of one them.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:16:02 in reply to Comment 102113

thx for the update. Are there any firm plans/renderings that can be released showing what is planned? Like many others, I'm hopeful for a great project with the remaining portion of this church and a new building behind it, but Hamilton has seen too many demolitions with no replacement plans over the years, so people are understandably nervous.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2014 at 14:06:04 in reply to Comment 102115

The Connolly twitter account said weeks, maybe a month, two max.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 12:37:27

Reminds me of this in The Beaches in Toronto:

http://urbantoronto.ca/forum/showthread....

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2014 at 16:38:09

!

All that beautiful slate from the roof ... ouch. What a dreadful shame.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 07, 2014 at 08:08:46 in reply to Comment 102127

Was it in good condition though? Since the article doesn't go into detail, could it be that those pieces were not considered to be something they could salvage? Did all the tiles just get thrown down or only some? What was done with the ones on the ground?

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By Chevalier (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 21:59:58

The organ is on kijiji. (Search 'Casavant').

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By Notlimey (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2014 at 22:32:33

Well I am glad they have at least saved the facade. And a brief off the main topic correction in the historical background - the architectural competition was with St. Paul's Presbyterian church. The local Anglican is the 1852 Church of the Ascension, near St. Joe's

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2014 at 11:48:55 in reply to Comment 102134

the architectural competition was with St. Paul's Presbyterian church

Good catch, thanks for pointing out the error. I've corrected the article.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted June 06, 2014 at 22:51:45

I appreciate Ryan's story and the light from archimatect. I take great exception, however, to the suggestion that somehow retail space is a more worthy purpose for a building like this, than worship. Has our culture no higher aspirations than to shop in the ruins?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 10:32:10 in reply to Comment 102136

What church congregation do you know of that can afford to buy and restore a dilapidated, 120 y/o building? No one is saying that 'retail is more worthy' but if no-one is willing to spend the money on the structure to allow it to be restored to its original purpose, then doesn't it make sense to find another purpose for which the financing is easier?

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2014 at 00:15:00

"Another visionary project"

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By lakeside (registered) | Posted June 07, 2014 at 00:51:16

This latest demolition reminds me that it's well past time for there to be established in Hamilton an architectural garden that could at least absorb some of the signature bits from buildings that are unfortunately demolished.

I propose this not because I want to add one more lame defense for those demolishers who can't see the value in the adaptive reuse of heritage structures, but rather so that when we do, for whatever offered reason, lose another piece of our past architectural heritage from its original location that we could at least retain a signature piece of it for posterity.

Has anyone here ever been to the the Guild Inn in Scarborough ON? It is there that a fellow named Spencer Smith and his wife Rosa built an inn and an artist's colony. Then they proceeded to furnish the estate grounds with the castoff remnants of Toronto's early grand stone office towers at a time when they were being demolished in order to bring in modern and lightweight steel-framed skyscrapers. They claimed and sometimes bought the building elements as the buildings came down.

The garden is filled with a mixture of sculpture plus stone details from demolished buildings set in a beautiful sylvan setting overlooking the lake. Some of the pieces are the entire entrance facade of the lost building reassembled on top of a new foundation, the largest of which loosely resembles the famous roman Forum. Take a look at some of the items in the garden by googling 'Guild Inn' and clicking Images.

We so badly need an Architectural Garden here. I have not before now been able to think of a really perfect site, knowing that it would need to be pretty large so it can continue to accept architectural elements for future decades as well.

But now there's the ongoing debate over what to do with the house at the Hermitage, itself a ruin, one that is still in its original place. It seems the plan is to reduce the ruins to a lower level and make it really less of an attraction because the cost of stabilizing the ruins is too high.

What if we were instead to do the full job of stabilizing them and making these ruins the centerpiece of a new sculptural and architectural garden with other architectural elements from Hamilton buildings placed in the many interesting settings around the house ruins? The cost of doing so could perhaps be justified by turning the Hermitage Architectural Garden (yes, the HAG because wouldn't that be fun?)a more major attraction, rather than a diminishing one.

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By bayside (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2014 at 11:48:05 in reply to Comment 102139

That was pitched a few years ago, if I recall it was written up postively in the spec, but not so well by the enlightened few who thought is would only encourage more demolition, err alteration.

Well the alteration hasn't seemed to have diminished as in the past 2 years we've seen the Board of Ed, Sanford School, Studebaker plant and more altered.

URL won't post so google - paul berton hamilton architectural museum - for more.

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By lakeside (registered) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 01:59:00 in reply to Comment 102176

I often agree with Dan Jelly but not in this case. I understand his all or nothing stance on preservation, and the reluctance to offer demolishers even one more way for them to explain away their actions, because this was in the face of the impending loss of the Education Centre.

I think many of us would have practically chained ourselves to the doors if we thought that would prevent its demolition. But as we all know now the building was doomed, no matter what -- forces beyond reason were in play.

It was an architectural masterpiece and there were a dozen other places where the new Medical Centre could have been built, some as close as right next door if that precise location was somehow so essential. But it was coming down anyway and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

The Education Centre is a great example of just why we do need an Architectural Garden.

It's not to create some maudlin graveyard midway of our failed efforts to save historic buildings. Its to share our past with future people who, without some record, will never know those buildings beyond the semi-gloss pages of the next edition of Vanished Hamilton.

As Dan points out, the buildings are far more than the sum of their parts and those parts are infused with the life and times of those who have animated the building through the years. To touch and feel the old building is to be that much closer to it.

It's true that so many buildings are long gone and can't be inclded in an architectural garden implemented now, but what about the future?

As modernity leaps forward, won't the experience of seeing and touching these awesome works of stone help people to understand the value of historic buildings? This sometimes helps people to gain a greater appreciation of heritage going forward.

The garden need not feature exclusively the relics of our lost preservation battles today. There could be stone sculpture works mixed in with the architectural elements; a series of delightful surprises as you wind your way around the loop trail.

Somewhere there must be people who have some of those lost pieces, who would perhaps allow them to be displayed in a setting where more people can appreciate them. While the lost Cherokee marble cladding from City Hall wasn't it's centerpiece or anything, I think the location of some of it is known. Maybe some of that could be bought back or donated and then be used to line a path or somehow be otherwise incorporated into the site. There must have been people who retained samples of prominent buildings such as Old City hall when they came down. Where are these now?

There might be other pieces of history that can be re-found and incorporated. Not every piece has to even be local. Exceptional pieces from other fallen buildings could maybe be considered for inclusion. Elements of buildings in the areas surrounding Hamilton could be incorporated as their history is intertwined with Hamilton's own, since they developed together.

Perhaps new works of sculpture could be produced by local artists out of lesser architectural elements like the marble. Imagine some sort of sculpture composed of salvaged 'HAMILTON' brick, as could have been salvaged from the Lyric/Century theater when it came down a few years ago. For the longest time there were what must have been thousands of bricks right on the surface there and millions of these bricks are still around buried in back yards and holding up book shelves.

Adaptive reuse in the original place would be the highest and best use for our old buildings. But when that fails, why not celebrate their lives in a gorgeous setting while making a powerful impression upon the next generation of potential architectural preservationists?

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By bayside (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 22:31:52 in reply to Comment 102199

City Hall marble fate - Google: Hamilton City Hall Marble Ditch

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By That's a great idea (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2014 at 07:54:27 in reply to Comment 102139

Wow, I really like that idea. It would remind me very much of a rock garden, but could be used to outline unique, impressive, or just plain beautiful stone and craftsmanship.

I'd too love the chance to get my hands on some of that stone or slate - fantastic accent pieces for the garden or around a light post in the yard. And to boot I don't mind if the elements get to it :)

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By LookinUp (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 10:28:32

I am actually very optimistic about this project! More-so than I was for the All Saints proposal despite big names behind it. That project was just a little too early, this one hit the mark.

Also a much appreciated response from one of the Architects at the firm working on this. Glad to hear and see a lot of care is going into this.

RTH doesn't always have to be so negative. It's a turn off sometimes. Even for longtime readers.

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By doncyclist (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 13:27:20

I worked in that building for 19 years and I am amazed that they are trying to save any of it. I not sure that the front will be there in the end; I believe that it too is very weak and could be a danger to the community. It is a poorly built and maintained building that has become a danger to the health of the community. Those of you who only look at the outside and love everything old, are also the ones who never want their taxes to go up and never want to pay anything out of their own pockets. It is every easy to think you know the full story but in the end you are simply making a lot of noise.

I for one am hoping whatever goes on that corner will help the city to renew and become more beautiful than it was. There are so many serious issues that we need to spend time on I am sorry that I am wasting any of my time replying to this nonsense.

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By sceptic (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2014 at 22:52:52

In days gone by lots of rich baptists, today not so much. Or did the decide to give all their money to the poor rather than upkeeping their steeple house? A pay day loan company would be great in that new retail space, get some money changers into the old temple ;)

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2014 at 07:47:18

Developers are developers. Some are good and some are bad.

The real issue is not the developer, it is the process that lead to this result. If the process is not corrected then all designated heritage buildings are in endanger.

People treat the heritage designation as some kind of magic bullet, but the reality is that if the process is not fixed then you can say goodbye to the Kerr Buildings, the school buildings, the Heritage, and the parking issue house on James St.

Why isn't the Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee protecting designated buildings?

Why was their decision (made by a committee of volunteers) allowed to stand so that they ok the demolition of a demolition of a heritage designated building?

Why was alternation permit allowed to stand unchallenged by city politicians at the Heritage Committee, the Planning and Economic Development Committee, and City Council.

My Understanding is that the Durand Neightbourhood Association has been pushing City Council to act but they have refused - why?

It is my understanding that the Director of Planning and Economic Development ok the demolition - Why?

Where is the report of City Staff on the fulfilment of the lengthly length of conditions that the Developer to achieve?

When and where will this report on conditions to be made public?

There are lots of questions here, the focus should not be on the developer but on City Hall.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 24, 2014 at 20:14:20

The stained glass window fell off in today's wind storm.

http://pbs.twimg.com/media/B3PNK_5IIAArY...

crud.

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