AUBURN — Workers from Cote Crane & Rigging removed the bells of St. Louis Catholic Church Wednesday, using a crane to lift the four bells from the tower above New Auburn and place them on the ground nearby.
The bells have been purchased by an undisclosed buyer and were shipped away.
The work is a precursor to the demolition of the grand, neo-Gothic building, which held its final Mass in August. Officials from Auburn's Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish have decided to raze the building.
However, the demolition is not yet scheduled, said Dave Guthro, spokesman for Maine's Roman Catholic diocese.
"There is no timeline for what will happen with St. Louis Church," Guthro said. "We are really in a holding pattern to see if any additional offers come in."
Grow L+A, a nonprofit dedicated to growing Lewiston and Auburn by promoting responsible development, is meeting with the Diocese of Portland's in-house restoration and construction company Monday to see whether the building could withstand another winter, said Michael A. Koch, a member of the task force trying to save the church.
"We just want to keep it standing," Koch said. "A fun community center for this neighborhood would be great."
The church was designed by architect Timothy G. O'Connell. He designed St. Mary's Church in Lewiston's Little Canada neighborhood and would later design the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston.
The bells were made in 1915 by Paccard Bell, a 217-year-old foundry still operating in France. The ornate detail and Latin inscriptions are unusual, said Alan Manoian, an economic development specialist with the city of Auburn.
"These are the first bells that I have seen from a foundry in France," he said, adding that he has climbed "countless church towers" and studied "hundreds of bells."
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte watched as the bells came down. He said he was growing impatient with church officials, who have declined to work with his office to discuss redevelopment of the church, rather than its demolition.
"If we lose this building, we have not done our job," City Councilor Leroy Walker said.