Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Temple Beth El - 1910
151 Richmond (E)
Architect: Howard Osgood Holland
The first Jewish congregation in Buffalo, and the first one between New York city and Chicago, was founded at a meeting of twelve men on 9 May, 1847 in the Western Hotel on Pearl Street at the Terrace. By this time, the Jewish population of the city had grown considerably since the arrival of L. H. Flersheim, the first Jew in Buffalo, some twelve years hence.
At this meeting, the men appointed a committee in charge of purchasing land for a Jewish cemetery and for $157.50, they acquired a five acre plot bounded by Fillmore, Batavia (Broadway), Gibson and Sycamore Streets. The young congregation initially worshipped in the Beak Street home of Abraham Jacobs, one of its early presidents.
In June, 1848 the congregation became know as Synagogue Beth El or House of God. One year later, they began worshipping on top floor of the Hoyt Block on the northwest corner of Main and Eagle. By 1849, it became evident that a larger place of worship would be needed in the near future.
At the January, 1849 meeting of the j congregation, they voted in favor of purchasing a lot on the east; side of Pearl Street north of Eagle containing an former schoolhouse. They devoted the remainder of the year towards raising money with which to purchase the site and remodel the building into a synagogue. With work completed, they dedicated the building during an English language service on 22 July, 18501. The congregation remained here for the following twenty-three years.
In January, 1865 a fire in the American Hotel across Main street from the synagogue, the site of the former AM&A's department store, damaged the building. The congregation experienced difficulty collecting its insurance money and began contemplating moving to another location. Despite this period of uncertainty, they made repairs to their building.
By 1870, the commercial activity of downtown had encroached upon the synagogue. It was soon surrounded by commercial buildings and the disruptive nature of the location no longer proved suitable for worship. The congregation formed a committee to search for a new location. They decided upon a site on the East side of Elm Street between Eagle and North Division Streets and constructed a modest brick house of worship upon it. They dedicated their second building on 15 August, 1874. Upon moving there, the former property was sold for retail use. (The site is currently occupied by the Main Place Mall.)
With many of the original members no longer active, changes began to occur within the congregation. In 1880 the first English sermon was preached and by the end of the century, men and women were allowed to sit together In the same pews. In 1906, under the leadership of Charles Polakoff, the search for a new location commenced. Polakoff had suggested that the new building be located on the west side of the city. But the majority of the congregation lived on the East Side and insisted that the new building be kept within walking distance of the old one.
To remedy this the building committee set out on a walk in search of a new site. Setting a leisurely pace, they continued for forty minutes then finding themselves on Richmond Avenue in the vicinity of the current building. On May 2, 1909 the congregation voted to undertake the construction of a new building and purchased the site from the Noye Manufacturing company for $12.000 by the end of the month. They later sold the Elm Street building and site to the Alling, Cory Company for $8.500.
On May 10, 1910 the congregation held their final service in the Elm Street synagogue. While the new building was being constructed, they met in the home of Joseph Saperston at 179 Fargo and then in a hall on Grant at Ferry. They broke ground on 24 March, 1910, and on 24 July Joseph Saperston placed the cornerstone. They dedicated their $100.000 house of worship on 10 September, 1911.
The architect was Howard Osgood Holland.
The brick building, with its copper dome, is a familiar landmark on Richmond Avenue. A broad fight a stairs leads to the main entrance doors, the lintels of which feature symbols of the Jewish faith. The auditorium is capped by a dome with an art glass skylight in its center.
The congregation worshipped in the building until-the changing demographics of the congregation forced them to consider a new location. In December, 1960, anticipating the move to their new site on Eggert Road at Sheridan, they ended Friday evening services. They celebrated their final service on Richmond Avenue on 9 October, 1966.