The Arty Semite

Buffalo’s Oldest Synagogue May Be Destroyed

By Samuel D. Gruber

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Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art and Monuments

David Torke

The former Ahavath Sholom Synagogue at 407 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y., built in 1903, is threatened with demolition. The building is one of the last standing synagogue of the “facade-dome” type that was popular at the end of the 19th century.

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. Time may not be long for the building, but local efforts to save it may yet stave off the wrecking ball.

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.

Architecturally, the building is notable for its single onion style dome set over the central entrance bay of the facade. Variations of this type are found in European synagogue architecture beginning in the mid-19th century. One example is the destroyed synagogue of Jelgava, Latvia. The style was especially common in Moorish-type buildings, including Ahavath Sholom. Major American examples include Temple Sinai in Chicago and Temple Beth El in New York, both of which were demolished decades ago. Tiny Gemiluth Chassed in Port Gibson, Mississippi survives.

The Ahavath Sholom building was designated a local protected site in 1997, but that did not lead to its restoration. The building is clearly eligible for National Register listing, and preservationists plan to submit a nomination form to the state soon. National Register designation can be crucial for a variety of government grants and tax credits for any restoration or redevelopment project.

You can read more about the synagogue in this article by Chana Kotzin from the February 10, 2012 issue of the Buffalo Jewish Review, and view photos of the building, as well as its original blueprints, here.


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