Thursday, February 23, 2012

USA: Buffalo, New York's Oldest Synagogue Building Threatened with Demolition

 Buffalo, NY. Former Ahavath Sholem synagogue.  A. E. Minks and Sons, architects (1903). Photo credit: David Torke, fixBuffalo.  Click here to see more photos.

USA: Buffalo, New York's Oldest Synagogue Building Threatened with Demolition
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) The former Ahavath Sholom Synagogue at 407 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo (google map), built in 1903,  is threatened with demolition.  Jewish use of the building ended in the 1960s, and it became home to the Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ.  The structure is now empty and in disrepair.  The building is one of the last standing synagogue of the "facade-dome" type that was popular at the end of the 19th century.  

Architecturally, the building is most readily notable for its single 'onion' style dome set over the central entrance bay of the facade.  Variations of this type of arrangement are known in synagogue architecture beginning in Europe in the mid-19th century.  One example is the destroyed synagogue of Jelgava, Latvia.  The style was especially common in Moorish style buildings such as Ahavath Sholom.  Major American examples include Temple Sinai in Chicago (Dankmar Adler, arch.) and Temple Beth El in New York (Brunner & Tryon, archs.) which were demolished decades ago. Tiny Gemiluth Chassed in Port Gibson, Mississippi survives. Time may not be long for Buffalo's Ahavath Sholom, but local efforts to save the building may stave off the wrecking ball.

 Port Gibson, Mississippi.  Congregation Gemiluth Chassed (1891-92).  Photo: ISJM.

Jelgava, Latvia. Former synagogue (1890?) from a postcard.

I'll be writing more about the plight of the former Ahavath Sholom and the effort to save it soon.  Meanwhile, look at this extensive flickr series of photos of the current condition.  Views of original building blueprints are included.  From these you can see that originally more Moorish details had been planned.
According to the blog fixBuffalo:
In December, Housing Court Judge Patrick Carney issued an order to demolish the City's oldest synagogue, one of the last remaining vestiges of Jewish life on the City's East Side.    The familiar onion domed landmark on Jefferson Avenue was designed by A. E. Minks and Sons and built in 1903.  With the cooperation of Rev. Jerome Ferrell and his congregation, the Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, this historic structure was designated a local landmark by the City's Preservation Board in 1997.  
 Read the entire post here.
You can read more about the synagogue in this article by Chana Kotzin from the February 10, 2012  issue of the Buffalo Jewish Review.  Kotzin runs the Buffalo Jewish archives and has been collecting history about the building, its congregation and the old East Side Jewish neighborhood. 

The synagogue was designated a local protected site in 1997, but that did not lead to its restoration.  You can read here the entire local landmark designation application from 1997, made available for wider distribution on fixBuffalo with Tim Tielman's assistance.  The building is clearly eligible for National Register listing, and preservationists plan to submit a nomination form to the state soon.  NR designation can be crucial for qualifying for a variety of government sponsored grants and tax credits for any restoration or redevelopment project for the building.
My thanks to Cynthia Van Ness and David Torke for helping me with this entry.

1 comment:

pamelaj said...

Please keep up the good work . My hometown of Buffalo needs a national marketing campaign making people aware that we are not doing our best to preserve our incredible past like the Europeans engage in. We need a national adopt a building campaign. Buffalo is a living museum.