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One of Buffalo's most celebrated and distinctive houses of worship will be getting a face lift beginning in December.

Temple Beth Zion, the curved Delaware Avenue synagogue with walls of scalloped limestone tilted outward at a 15-degree angle, will get its first overhaul since its construction in 1967.

The rejuvenation work, which will cost about $1 million, is expected to be completed by the spring.

The biggest changes will be outside the sanctuary, to a corridor and library.

Plans call for the institutional look of the hallways and library to be replaced with curved ceilings, soft lighting and new wall coverings and carpeting -- to create a gentler ambience.

"We're just making the place more usable, more livable," said Stuart G. Lerman, temple president.

Lerman said the renovations represent a commitment to Buffalo by members of the synagogue, which also has a building in Amherst.

The sanctuary, which features stained-glass windows and 30-foot-tall Ten Commandment tablets at the main altar by artist Ben Shahn, will get refinished pews, new carpeting and a new sound system. Worship services likely will be held in a separate chapel.

Other improvements to the building will be a refinished Rabbi Fink Auditorium, with new lighting and restrooms, and a covered canopy and new signage for the main entrance.

The award-winning building design is by Max Abramovitz, the famed New York City architect who helped fashion the Lincoln Center and the headquarters for the United Nations. Abramovitz died in September.

The exterior walls consist of Alabama limestone, shaped in the form of cupped hands and slanting slightly.

Inside, poured concrete walls are bathed in natural sky light. The sanctuary seats about 1,100 people.

Temple Beth Zion commissioned the building at Delaware Avenue and Barker Street after its original synagogue -- a domed Byzantine landmark -- burned down in a 1961.

Founded in 1850, Temple Beth Zion is the largest Jewish congregation in Western New York and one of the largest and oldest reform Jewish congregations in the United States.


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