Jefferson Avenue Shul - Table of Contents
Nomination for Buffalo Local Landmark Listing
Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ
Original name: Ahavas Sholem Synagogue
407 Jefferson Avenue, Buffalo, NY
Landmark listing: May 27, 1997
The architecture of Greater New Hope, formerly known as Ahavath Sholom can be described as Moorish Revival. Architect A.E. Minks designed and built Ahavath Sholom in 1903. Although the exterior of the edifice does not have columns, towers or steeples, Greater New Hope does have a beautiful central dome. This type of dome was used to signify the unity of the Jewish faith, characteristic of the Byzantine style from which the Moorish style originated. During the Inquisition and other racially hard times the Moorish style gradually disappeared, and a more non-conspicuous form was adopted, those of the Gothic or Classical styles. On the rise of the Jewish middle class, German Jews introduced the Moorish revival, who designed Jewish motifs for the exterior of the Jewish synagogues. Some of the symbols used were the Star of David and the Shield of David. Ahavath Sholom did possess a large Star of David of stained glass along with a smaller Star of David over the central entrance to the sanctuary. The exterior of the church features an arched central entrance with two arched stained glass windows.
The exterior of the church has three entrances, one main door and two smaller doors. The main door was used for going directly into the sanctuary, the other two doors were used to go into the balcony, dining hall or kitchen. In the Orthodox Jewish temples women weren't allowed to sit with the men, therefore they were seated in the balcony. Hence the women used the two smaller doors.
The sanctuary contains fourteen columns that support the semicircular apse shaped balcony and two pilasters on both sides of the wall that contains "The Ark". Now arranged anterior to "The Ark" is the choir stand, the pulpit, and the original altar of Ahavath Sholom. The sanctuary also contains the original pews separated by two aisles and two offices on both sides of "The Ark". The Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments and the sacred scrolls was the main inspiration of the Jewish faith. The Perpetual Lamp also an important ingredient of the Jewish faith, was to be kept burning in front of "The Ark". The Perpetual Lamp is still in the sanctuary today.
The Jewish communities believed that the synagogues should be able to sustain the community. Many synagogues had schools, kitchens, and recreational areas built onto them. Ahavath Sholom had their own teaching areas, dining area, and kitchen built into the church. During this time Ahavath was considered one of the stylish synagogues of the Lower East Side.
In Buffalo Architecture: A Guide by Francis R. Kowsky et al, construction of the building is attributed to the architectural firm A.E. Minks and Son, with a date of 1903. Based on a visual survey of the property, the church building appears to have developed during two distinct periods.
The appearance of the front section provides a significant presence on Jefferson Avenue and may correspond to the 1903 time period. This portion of the building contains an entrance vestibule and stairways to the upper and lower levels (either added later as a concession to inclement weather or refaced to suit congregational changes). This section is constructed of buff (yellowish-brown) colored brick with a symmetrical three bay arrangement of openings. The central part of the front facade projects forward. The front facade is highly articulated, with a significant amount of detail.
The central main entrance is flanked- by two lesser entrance- ways. The main entrance is comprised of a bold roundheaded opening having three courses of stepped arches with a corbelled brick hood- mold. The corbelled brickwork extends horizontally from the hood- mold to form a string course just above the openings of the flanking doors. Within the main entrance portal is the remains of the round headed transom with a single round pane in the center, but which was once divided into individual panes forming the Star of David. Large wooden plank doors with applied wrought iron hinges, evident in earlier photographs; have been replaced by two modern steel insulated doors. The earlier plank doors remain intact in the flanking entrances.
The upper level of the front facade is also symmetrically balanced. In the center above the main entrance is a large round opening (now sheathed in plywood with a glazed cross); earlier photographs exhibit the division of the opening into a Star of David pattern. This window originally lit the choir loft area of the upper balcony. This opening is encircled with corbelled brick. Both the round window and the main doorway below are framed with a Gothic (pointed) arch raised in the brickwork.
On either side of the central round window are round headed window openings with raised hood molds in a rowlock arch arrangement. The window openings have been reduced and fitted with modern thermal windows with plastic inserts giving the appearance of 9 over 9 window sash. Above each of these window openings are bull's eye windows with the original trefoil sash. These round windows are encircled by raised brick.
Just below the cornice is another corbelled string- course. The cornice is comprised of an elaborate arrangement of arches with a crown molding executed in pressed sheet metal. Atop each corner is a pressed metal firual of truncated proportions. At the top of it all, is a large onion dome, also executed in sheet metal. The proportions of the dome relative to the front facade gives an almost whimsical appearance to the whole arrangement.
The windows on both sides of the front section are round- headed openings. The window arch is comprised of three rowlock brick courses. The wood sash within the opening has a horseshoe shaped arch associated with Moorish architecture. The glazing is lead, came in a diamond pattern using colored glass of predominantly purple and gold shades.
The body of the church is constructed of red brick, which has now acquired the dark patina of age. There are seven large round headed openings in the Italianate manner along the east and west sides with triple rows of rowlock arches flush with the wall. The upper portions of the windows are covered over with plywood. Below the plywood are modern thermal pane units. Small round headed arches toward the front of the church, with double rowlock arches light the landings of the stairways. These windows retain their original leaded diamond pattern windows. Between the openings are brick buttresses with splayed stone caps.
At the back of the building is a low one-story section, original to the church, which provides a rear stairway to the basement level from the sanctuary. A portion of this area now serves as a washroom area for the minister, but may originally have been for storage.
The body of the church has a steeply pitched gable roof. The fascia of the eaves are finely executed in wood with crown molding. Where the fascia and crown mold of the body of the church meet the front buff brick section, the wood has a mitered corner suggesting that it once turned back across the front facade, but was removed when the front section was either added or renovated.
The original detail of the interior is much in evidence as are various periods of decorative detail all in varying degrees of refurbishment. In the entry vestibule remain vestiges of an art nouveau lincrusta dado associated with the first quarter of the twentieth century and in fact may be a remnant of the 1903 period of development. Other sections of the dado exhibit an applied treatment intended to resemble a hammer faced cut stone finish. The upper wall sections are finished with a stuccoed plaster treatment.
The door surrounds leading to the sanctuary have fine molding profiles with ear mold details typically associated with the Classical Revival style of architecture. These same molding profiles and ear trim are found elsewhere on interior door openings on the first floor level of the church.
Within the sanctuary, the pews are divided into three banks having a center seating area separated by aisles from the banks against the outer side walls. At the outside edge of the aisles are rows of cast iron columns supporting a balcony. The columns have cushion capitals with a trefoil design.
The cushion capital is a medieval form and often associated with Norman architecture. The balcony area has been closed off from the sanctuary by a suspended acoustical ceiling.
Against the rear wall are the remains of the lower portion of an altarpiece. The upper portion of the altarpiece is still intact in the balcony area. Immediately in front of the altarpiece was the location of the original altar. Still in place are the lower portions of the columns, which formed an elaborate baldachin over the altar. A baldachin is an ornamental canopy.
Two offices have been created in the rear corners of the sanctuary area. The lower portion of the walls retain the original panel wainscot. Above the wainscot the walls have a modern plaster stucco finish. The windows have been replaced with modern thermal pane sash.
The upper level of the church retains much of the rich detail from the early period of the structure's history and provide the best clues to its architectural origins. The ceiling has an elliptical form accentuated by plaster ribs which intersect with an ornamental molding which form panels on the central ceiling section. At the apse end is the upper portion of the altarpiece. The altarpiece is in a design of nineteenth century Renaissance style exhibiting many classical details including: triangular pediment, columns with Corinthian capitals, full entablature and shell ornament. On either side of the altarpiece are round headed openings with horseshoe arch sash containing leaded colored glass.
The original window sash are intact above the balcony level. The windows are a variation of the Florentine window of the Italianate style of architecture found in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The dominant feature of the Florentine window is the use of a two arched sash surmounted by a roundel. Here, the architect embellished the arched sash with the use of the horseshoe arch; making the feature all the more decorative. The windows retain their original leaded glass. The arch of each window opening is accentuated further- by an arch in the ceiling above.
The interior of the church had been decorated with a stenciled paint treatment. A clue to this treatment is given in a newspaper article from the Buffalo Times, April 18, 1931, entitled "Temple Ahavath Sholem Carries On". In the article, the writer, Clement Good states of the Board of Directors for the synagogue that they are "...centering their interests on a $2000 program for redecorating and painting the church. Work on the interior probably will be started within a month." Beneath light fixtures, which were installed after the stenciling was completed, the stencil pattern is bold and clearly depicts the Star of David within the pattern. Elsewhere, paint is peeling to reveal the stencil beneath and overall the pattern of stencil is bleeding through the layers(s) of paint over top. It appears certain this stenciling is the decorative work the congregation was about to commence in 1931.
The building probably dates from the mid to late nineteenth century. A search of ownership records would help resolve the date of construction, which is likely associated with a religious institution prior to Temple Ahavath Sholem. If we could ignore the massive frontispiece facing Jefferson Avenue, the form and detail of the building fits that of the Italianate style of the nineteenth century. The Italianate style was considered, by some congregations, as a suitable alternative to the Gothic style and the earlier Classical style for ecclesiastical buildings. Some "Builders...tended to toy with the Norman and Italianate styles and with a hybrid form which they were pleased to call Lombard..." (Hallowed Walls; Marion MacRae & Anthony Adamson, Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1975). The steeply pitched roof, round headed openings and Florentine window sash all indicate an Italianate structure. A central tower projecting forward of the body, perhaps with stairwells, would have completed the original design.
The front section of the church, it must be concluded with almost certainty, is a refacing and enlargement of the original tower. Since A.E. Minks and Son is attributed as being responsible for the design of the church in 1903, it is likely they were responsible for the design of the front section. The tower was extended upward such that the eaves of the original church which once returned across the front facade were removed leaving the mitred corner of the facia board as evidence of the earlier element lost in the redesign. The extent of detail on the front facade speaks to the skills of a trained designer and appear to have been executed in full regard to the details on the body of the church. The window openings in some locations retain the horseshoe arch sash still evident in the body of the church and which were the original architect's treatment for openings which were too small to receive the full Florentine arch arrangement. These windows were either reintroduced by Minks or remained in their original locations as his design part of the Italianate design, which if viewed alone might lead one to conclude a structure of Moorish influence. The brickwork of the main entrance way reflects details which may have been found with Norman architecture and as noted by MacRae and Adamson were elements often incorporated into Italianate churches.
The use of the pressed metal cornice is not without some precedent in Buffalo. The Lenox Hotel constructed in 1896 on North Street also possesses such a cornice albeit in a Venetian arch design rather than the rounded arch design found here. Pressed metal finials crown each of the corners of the front section. The metal dome is not consistent with the design elements of this section and may have been a concession to the client's wishes at that time. It is purported that the dome signifies the unity of the Jewish faith.