Nov. 23 2011 12:00 AM

Wrecking ball fells Westside landmark, creating fulfillment for some, loss for others


Between 1930 and 2009, thousands walked
through the arched limestone doorway at 1514 W. Saginaw St. Even for
those who just passed by in their cars at 45 mph, the two stories of
tan and brown brick detail were a landmark. They provided what the
Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Kresge Foundation
call “a sense of place.”

And now Holy Cross School is gone.

The school was part of a 4.7-acre
complex that covered a whole block west of Jenison, between Saginaw and
Oakland Avenue, on Lansing’s west side.

The Catholic Diocese of Lansing closed
Holy Cross Parish two years ago and put it up for sale. The church, the
rectory, two school class buildings and a small gymnasium were assessed
at about $1 million.  

Paul Garripy, director of property
management for the diocese, said the school was demolished because “the
architecture made it impossible to be handicap accessible.”

The demolition frustrated the Bernero
administration. Bob Johnson, Lansing’s director of planning and
neighborhood development, said the city did not sufficiently scrutinize
the diocese’s request for permission to demolish it.

“Holy Cross should not have been torn
down without first having an in-depth discussion with the community (to
include the city).  Lansing lost a special, and iconic, building,”
Johnson said.

When opened in 1930, the building served
as school upstairs and church in the basement until a church was built
behind it at 1611 W. Oakland Ave.

The sense of loss for some, however, is
a sense of fulfillment for others. Joy is bubbling in the Vietnamese
Catholic community. This spring, Holy Cross Church, built in 1949,
became St. Andrew Dung Lac. They’re reusing the rest of the complex. 

On a recent Sunday, Mass had ended at
St. Andrew. The youth group practiced theater. Women cooked and sold
Vietnamese food from the kitchen in the basement. Some 180 families
with shallow roots here are finding fertile soil. 

“When our bishop offered us this site,”
said Ken Nguyen, who chairs St. Andrew’s Parish Council, “we thought
this place is the best place for us for the future.”

St. Andrew Dung Lac was operating a
smaller church on South Washington Avenue. They gave that back to the
diocese along with $86,000.

Nguyen walks from the church to the
single-story 1950s school building. He’s excited about polishing it up,
although there is no notable damage to it.

“We have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Nine classrooms. We use it for education,” he said.

Nguyen didn’t show any attachment to the old school. 

“The Diocese of Lansing took care of it.
They paid for a company to destroy the old school for us. Because the
old school ... we cannot take care of it.”

A backhoe smashed it apart. A cross had
stood on the roof above the second story. Layers of recessed arches of
limestone formed the entry way and several windows above it.

“We are very happy,” Nguyen continued,
while looking at the rubble that had dropped on the school’s
80-by-50-foot imprint. “We have more space to do maybe landscaping.”

They have more space for parking, too. Nguyen says they might need more than the 200 spaces they’ve got now.

The diocese said that the number of
families had shrunk so much that it could not justify the costs of
keeping the church open. The diocese urged Holy Crossers to attend St.
Mary Cathedral downtown near the Capitol.

On Sunday at St. Mary, worshippers sang the hymn called “Lift High The Cross.”

That’s what Cynthia Pahlkotter thought
she was doing. But she’s begun to question church authorities. There’s
the feeling she gets when driving on Saginaw Street past the demolition
site: “Sad. It’s a sad situation. I don’t know why they tore it down.
Do you?”