Rebuild it and they will come.
Volunteers from around the globe have been hard at work in the Church of Scientology‘s new three-story, two-mezzanine home at 836 Main St., on the southwest corner of Main and Virginia streets.
Members have come from as far as Hungary, Lithuania, South Africa and Italy to work on the 23,232-square-foot building’s restoration, scheduled for completion in mid-September.
Closer to home, Scientologists from Chicago, Miami, New York City and Hollywood, where the church is headquartered, have joined in, too, from painting walls and hand-carving woodwork to sanding brick and reupholstering chairs.
“Any building that has had so much beauty makes it easy to be here,” said Kevin Benac, standing on a ladder as he paused from applying paint to the building’s exterior. The renovated facade boasts buff brick, glazed white terra cotta and limestone trim.
This week marks the fifth month that Benac, owner of a specialty painting company in Chicago, has spent painting and plastering the 19th century building. His skillful hands have built up the bases of the building’s pillars by applying as many as eight coats of plaster of Paris, and restoring the decorative egg and dart molding at the top of the columns.
“This is in the traditional manner of how church buildings were done,” said Teresa Reger of East Aurora, president of the church’s Buffalo chapter.
Reger said the Church of Scientology regularly updates its worldwide chapters about new events through video or satellite, and that spurred the interest of some members to help.
“We’ve had people who are artisans in their craft who saw a picture of the building and wanted to help with restoring it,” she said.
Not all of the labor has been volunteer. Hired contractors have done some of the work. So did a crew of six inmates from the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden. They were removed after Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan was questioned by The Buffalo News about the propriety of a government agency providing free labor to a church.
The Church of Scientology is temporarily housed at Franklin and Edward streets. It was formerly in the Hurst building at 47 W. Huron St., before the city paid it $740,000 in December for the right to demolish the building and expand the Owen P. Augspurger Parking Ramp.
The Scientologists then paid $300,000 for the Main Street building, constructed in 1893 by the Buffalo Catholic Institute, a group of German-American Catholics who used it for religious research and lectures. The building has been vacant in recent years.
The new location heralds a large expansion of the church. The center will be the home to scientologists in Western and Central New York, Pennsylvania, and some parts of Ohio and Canada. The staff will increase to 75 to 100, from about 25 six months ago, Reger said. She said she couldn’t say how many members the Buffalo church had because of the broad area from which it draws.
The space, with cathedral ceilings as high as 19 feet, includes an intimate, horseshoe-shaped sanctuary on the third floor and “detoxification rooms,” including saunas, that Scientologists use to rid the body of impurities.
State-of-the-art flat screens, beaming videos about Scientology and its founder, the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, are found in the visitors entrance and third-floor lounge.
The Buffalo church raised $1.4 million for the renovation, Reger said, in part through the aid of one donor whom she declined to identify.
Scientology – known to some for a number of Hollywood stars among its ranks, including John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Jenna Elfman, and Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley – has been mired in controversy for years over claims it is a cult.
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