Buffalo-based architect John Selkirk, known for his work on private residences, businesses, and churches in the thriving young city, designs the chapel for what will become the Delaware Avenue Methodist Church at the rear of the congregation’s property on the corner of Delaware and West Tupper.
Construction is completed on the church proper, a Gothic Revival structure typical of its time and notable for its use of side galleries and a system of basement catacombs. Stained glass windows are designed by the Buffalo firm of Booth and Reister. The building proves to be Selkirk’s last and most ambitious project; he dies in 1878.
Two other Protestant congregations briefly occupy the building, after which it is left vacant. During these years, pews, original windows, and other fixtures are sold or stolen, and the structure falls into disrepair and deterioration. The City of Buffalo acquires the title to the church. In 1995, stones fall from the north tower and façade of the building, causing the city to close the streets and sidewalks surrounding it. The church is slated for demolition.
The outcry from community activists, preservationists, and the general public inspires Righteous Babe Records president Scot Fisher to launch Citizens to Save the Asbury Church, a grassroots organization dedicated to preventing the destruction of the church. The group takes legal action to stop the demolition, then raises funds allowing the city to begin emergency repairs.
Still vacant, the church continues to deteriorate and faces the threat of demolition once again. Fisher and musician Ani DiFranco approach the city with an offer to purchase the building for use as a concert venue and the offices of their record label, pledging to privately finance interior renovations and ongoing maintenance and operating costs if the city fulfills its responsibility to repair the exterior and provide necessary structural repairs.
Their offer accepted, Fisher and DiFranco commission a series of historical, engineering, and architectural studies of the project, then begin working on renovation plans with Flynn Battaglia Architects. The massive process of cleaning and construction commences. Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo’s thirty-year-old visual art, music, and media arts organization, is invited to rent space in the building and begins fundraising for a gallery and cinema to be designed by another local firm, Architectural Resources, in coordination with Flynn Battaglia.
Despite numerous hurdles, construction continues. An environmentally friendly and efficient geothermal heating system is installed; the ceiling of the sanctuary is restored; and an exterior stairwell and elevator shaft are added, among countless other tasks. In February 2004, the barriers on Delaware and Tupper are removed and the sidewalk outside the church is open to the public for the first time in nearly a decade.
With the bulk of major construction complete, the renovated building, now dubbed “The Church,” opens its doors in January to a standing-room-only crowd for a preview. Simultaneously, Hallwalls moves into its new headquarters and begins programming exhibitions, screenings, and other events. In March, Righteous Babe Records relocates its offices in the building.
In September, Ani DiFranco inaugurates the Asbury Hall venue with a pair of sold-out concerts. “The Church” is rechristened “Babeville,” the basement club called the Ninth Ward opens, and the entire complex is alive with activity.
From former president Bill Clinton to lovestruck newlyweds, from major touring acts to up-and-coming local bands, visitors fill every available space in the building. On a daily and nightly basis, Babeville serves as a center for music, art, and community projects.