Every Friday, I walk down to Spring Avenue and snap a few pictures of the gradual deconstruction of St. Agatha. At this stage, the church looks as if it was hit by a World War II bomb run.
I think it was a mistake to tear down the church and a mistake to replace it with a CVS. Earlier this week, EllwoodCity.org shared a column from Triblive on the negative effects of destroying local landmarks, and St. Agatha was used as an example.
St. Agatha was one of Ellwood’s oldest buildings, had distinctive architecture and was culturally significant for the Catholic community. As such, it was an important asset.
A CVS is just a retail store. We already have at least three pharmacies, one of which is already a CVS. From what I gather, the major pharmacy corporations are shifting toward large stores in a downtown as opposed to a small store in a plaza. Basically, CVS is using Ellwood as a minor front in the struggle for pharmacy-market domination, and St. Agatha happened to be in the way.
A pharmacy isn’t progress for the town. It’s primarily a corporate retail outlet. The buildings are ugly and don’t match the look of a residential/business town area. Excepting the pharmacists, the jobs are low-paying and unskilled.
“Oh look this town has a CVS and Rite Aid right across from each other. I want to live here,” said nobody ever.
With downtown revitalization, the goal is to give the illusion that the town has something to offer by creating a distinct look which in turns leads to actual improvement when business and customers start using the downtown. Spring Avenue and Fifth Street aren’t technically downtown, but for the purposes of this argument, they’re close enough.
With St. Agatha, there was an opportunity to use it for the revitalization effort.
In Braddock, a downtrodden Pittsburgh suburb, Mayor John Fetterman lived in the town’s oldest church to prevent its demolition. The First Presbyterian Church was later renovated into a community center, preserving its architecture and heritage but giving it a new function.
Another alternative would have been to get a business that would have used St. Agatha as is or used the materials to make a building with similar architecture to preserve the look of the block.
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be enough effort or vision to use St. Agatha for anything. From what I understand, there were attempts to convert the building into something beneficial, but none succeeded. So when the apparent choices were between an unused old building and a corporation that wanted to open a business on the lot, Ellwood ended up with a CVS.
To paraphrase the most confusing Batman quote ever- it’s the building we didn’t need but the one we deserved.