Buffalo's Common Council is moving closer to making the Michigan Street Baptist Church and what is now I-Prep at Grover Cleveland High School official landmarks, not just landmarks in their neighborhood and in history.
Michigan Street Baptist has been open since 1849 and is believed to have been on the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada during slavery times. It served as an important stage in the long civil rights struggle of African Americans locally and nationally and took a role in the Niagara Movement, which led to the NAACP more than a century ago.
Preservation Board Member Ruth Bryant said it is long overdue for official landmark status.
"I've been in the church numerous times. I've seen the Underground Railroad, the little cubbies downstairs. It just needs to be upkept. It needs some upkeeping to bring it forth," Bryant said. "But it's from Jesse Nash to whoever and it's on the Michigan Avenue Heritage Corridor. It's about time we do it."
Grover has been a highly visible building on the city's West Side for more than a century. Buffalo Public Schools have made major additions over time and preserved its look.
The city Preservation Board has been putting together a list of local buildings often seen as landmarks but aren't legally landmarks. Besides Michigan Street Baptist and Grover, there are Olmsted at Kensington High School and others.
Lawyer and preservationist Richard Berger says Michigan Street Baptist has been taken over by a new non-profit group working on fixing up the 175-year-old building. Berger told the Preservation Board the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition is backed by the El Bethel Assembly Light of the World Missions, which runs the church.
"They are fully in agreement with this landmarking and Bishop Henderson, who's the leader, who sits on our board of directors also of the Freedom Station Coalition," said Berger. "I just wanted to make that clear to the Preservation Board because I saw something on the application to what other organizations are interested and the Light of the World Missions does."
Bishop William Henderson runs that congregation and has long personally repaired problems in the aging building.
On Tuesday, the Common Council is slated to set public hearing dates for the church and Grover, in the next stage of the landmarking process. Preservation Board member and retired architect John Laping said landmarking lets people watch a building over the years.
"Just a little more eyes on the project," Laping said. "If somebody wants to change something in 10-20 years, somebody can look at it and say, 'No, you can't do that' or 'you shouldn't do that' or 'it doesn't respect the building.' But I think those eyes are the most important thing."