Plans are advancing for a project to convert a longtime former synagogue in North Buffalo that later became a church into apartments, as the developer behind the venture seeks city approval to demolish portions of the building that aren't needed.
Rocco J. DelGrosso, who owns the now-closed Faith of the Good Shepherd Chapel at 1235-1237 Hertel Ave., wants to turn the 63-year-old religious building into a new residential building, with nine luxury units and retail space.
He is seeking approval from the Buffalo Preservation Board to demolish the western most annex portion of the building, while also removing the front stairs and any other floor levels or interior walls that may be needed as part of the conversion. However, "the building is not expected to be torn down completely," DelGrosso wrote in an Aug. 28 email to Chris Hawley, a city planner who handles the board. The Preservation Board meets at 3 p.m. on Thursday, on the ninth floor of City Hall.
The 9,268-square-foot building on Hertel sits on 0.18 acres between Commonwealth Avenue and Traymore Street, with parking for eight cars. The lower level currently has a large kitchen area, offices and other space.
Designed by architect Jack Kushin, the tan-brick block-shaped building was constructed in 1955 as the new home of the B'rith Israel Anshe Ames Synagogue, which was formed in 1947 from the merger of the B'rith Israel and Anshe Ames synagogues on Hickory Street.
According to a James Napora book on the history of local religious institutions, B'rith Israel was the first permanent synagogue built by Jewish immigrants to Buffalo in the 1880s, and was also the first Chasidic or ultra-Orthodox synagogue in the city. It started on Lutheran Alley and later moved to locations on Mortimer and Hickory streets.
Anshe Ames, meanwhile, was a small and often struggling congregation that moved into a former B'rith Israel site on Hickory. But both moved to Hertel Avenue in the 1940s, and then built the new 390-seat facility for $80,000 in 1954.
In 1990, the congregation sold the building to the Pentecostal Church Faith of the Good Shepherd, an African-American church with roots on the East Side. More recently, the building was up for sale for several years.
The building still has a giant Star of David inside a circle engraved on the front facade, above two tablets of the Ten Commandments, flanked by a pair of engraved candelabras. DelGrosso previously said he hopes to remove the engravings and donate them to an active synagogue in the area.
Plans for the $1.5 million project call for reconfiguring the interior of the two-story building with four units on each floor, while removing the front entrance and steps on Hertel. DelGrosso then intends to construct a front addition extending to the sidewalk on Hertel that would include two retail spaces on the first floor along the street, plus a large two-bedroom apartment on the second floor along the length of the building, complete with Juliet balconies.
The larger upper-floor units will be constructed in the tall sanctuary space, with two bedrooms and a loft level in each. Each apartment will also have large windows that provide significant daylight from the east or west. The lower-level units will be one-bedroom apartments with large daylight windows at the street level. DelGrosso also plans an outdoor sundeck and patio for tenants.
The developer and his architect, David Giusiana, also designed a combined entryway on the far eastern end of the addition, providing access to both a retail storefront and a stairwell lift or elevator that would take people to the lower level.
Meanwhile, the upper level will be accessible from a stairway leading from the new covered and secured parking garage that is also being constructed as part of the project, with nine parking spaces. Car traffic would enter the garage from Hertel and exit through the rear onto Hertel Alley that runs between Commonwealth and Traymore.