DIOCESE BUYS BACK HISTORIC CHURCH

WINIFRED YU Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B7

Date: Friday, March 8, 1996

ALBANY -- A historic church, long celebrated for its Gothic revival structure, but closed for lack of worshippers, has been bought back by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and is under study for possible uses in the future. St. Joseph's Church, which stands as the centerpiece of the Ten Broeck Triangle, was sold back to the diocese for $30,000 last summer by its former owner, retired Marine Col. Bronislaus A. Gill of Clifton Park, according to the Rev. Randall Patterson, the spokesman for the diocese. Gill had owned the church since 1981, when he saved it from closing.


The diocese has since organized a committee made up of government officials, church leaders, and neighborhood and historic groups to study the 135-year old building and to look into how any project would be financed.


Among those on the committee are Mayor Jerry Jennings, County Executive Michael Breslin and Assemblyman John McEneny. The group also includes representatives of the Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League, Historic Albany Foundation and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Places.


``It is a real jewel and is certainly one of the most beautiful churches of our diocese,'' said Patterson, who is a member of the committee.


Committee members have raised the possibility of turning St. Joseph's into a church museum, history museum or a theater, Patterson said. But no specific plans have been developed yet.


Next week, committee members are slated to tour the church, said the Rev. Thomas Phelan, the committee chairman who also heads the diocese's architecture and building commission.


``Mixed usage is probably the way we'll end up going,'' Phelan said, noting that the 1,600-seat church could be converted into housing and shops. ``It's got to be something that makes money to keep it going.''


Committee members say it will cost $100,000 to $150,000 simply to upgrade the building into a useable condition.


In its heyday, St. Joseph's catered to the residents of Millionaire's Row, a 19th century neighborhood in Arbor Hill that housed lumber barons, merchants and bankers. In 1987, the church was used to film a scene in the movie, ``Ironweed.''


As the number of worshippers dwindled, the church eventually closed in July 1994, and its remaining congregants were sent to Sacred Heart Church in North Albany.


But neighbors have remained concerned about the church. A fundraising effort last year raised $15,000, which will go toward the installation of a fountain on the church property, said Rick Maecker, co-chairman of the Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League. The fountain, which will come from England, will be installed April 1.