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Foss: Loss of Notre-Dame has lessons for us

Foss: Loss of Notre-Dame has lessons for us

You never know when a piece of history will be lost forever
Foss: Loss of Notre-Dame has lessons for us
The Nicholaus Building at State Street and Erie Boulevard in Schenectady on Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER FILE

I watched with sadness as Notre-Dame Cathedral burned. 

I wasn't alone. 

All over social media, people expressed sorrow over the fiery destruction of one of the world's most beautiful buildings, a feat of architecture and craftsmanship that dazzles even the most jaded of tourists. 

I visited the cathedral in the fall of 2017 during a trip to Paris, and I'm glad I did. 

You never know when a piece of history will be lost forever, as such moments seldom announce themselves.

Also see: Flames savage historic Notre Dame
Also see: District: Shenendehowa students in Paris, visited Notre Dame Cathedral Monday morning

Notre-Dame was built in the Middle Ages, and it's not a stretch to think that it might have stood for centuries to come. 

Monday's blaze was devastating, leaving ashes and sorrow in its wake, and while the cathedral has been rebuilt before, that doesn't ease the sting of losing it. 

Indeed, I was surprised by how heartbroken the ominous reports out of France made me feel.  

Notre-Dame Cathedral was a work of art, which might explain why it was so easy to fall in love with. Few buildings qualify as works of art, of course. But our built environment is often quite ugly. Our newer construction tends to be bland and boring, while too many of our older buildings are deteriorating. 

A well-preserved and aesthetically-pleasing historic neighborhood, such as Schenectady's Stockade, tends to be the exception, rather than the rule. 

And it's tough to get too worked up when Capital Region cities demolish blighted vacant buildings. 

Last week, the city of Schenectady announced that it would knock down eight more derelict properties -- an announcement that's cause for celebration. These properties aren't Notre-Dame Cathedral. Nobody is going to miss them when they're gone, and the surrounding neighborhoods will be better off. 

That said, there are numerous examples of local municipalities failing to protect noteworthy buildings from ruin. 

They might not be Notre-Dame Cathedral, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be preserved. 

It would have been nice to find a way to save the distinctive Nicholaus Building that once stood at Erie Boulevard and State Street, but was demolished after construction work at an adjacent building caused it to become unstable. 

The new apartment complex adjacent to the old Nicholaus site lacks the character and personality of the older building, now lost forever. That stretch of State Street has benefited from new development, but whenever I look at it, I'm reminded of what used to be there. 

Also see: Flames savage historic Notre Dame​​​​​​​
Also see: District: Shenendehowa students in Paris, visited Notre Dame Cathedral Monday morning

The loss of Notre-Dame reminds us that it's important to celebrate the beauty in our midst while we can, and do what we can to protect it.

All communities have valuable historic landmarks that are worthy of preservation, and while progress and growth are good, the past has its virtues, too. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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