A large insignia engraved on a dramatic backdrop stood in commanding fashion over a red-carpeted stage.
In front rested a sculpted wooden podium flanked by a TelePrompTer.
Politicians and celebrities sat among rows of filled white seats, as plainclothes security wearing earphones surveyed the crowd.
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Meanwhile, hundreds of red, white and blue balloons waited to be released.
One could have been forgiven for thinking Vice President Cheney was in Buffalo a day early. Instead, it was the grand opening of the Church of Scientology‘s restored building at the southwest corner of Main and Virginia streets.
Despite a chilly, gray afternoon, a crowd estimated by organizers at 1,400 came out to hear outdoor speeches, get a tour of the restored 1893 building and celebrate Scientology’s expanded presence in Buffalo.
It is the latest chapter for a worldwide organization that has long been accused of being a cult rather than a religion.
“What we have here in Buffalo are great people, great architecture, great opportunity, and I think this represents the best of the best here today,” said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who read aloud a proclamation that declared Church of Scientology Day in Buffalo.
“Like so many of you, I’ve been looking forward to this moment for some time,” Masiello said.
Other speakers, including David Miscavige, chairman of the Scientology-related Religious Technology Center, and Ellicott Council Member Brian Davis, praised the work of the church and its potential impact on Buffalo.
The building, which was the Buffalo Catholic Institute when it originally opened, replaces the church’s former home in the Hurst building at 47 W. Huron St. The city paid $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 and relied on volunteers from around the globe to repair and restore the building at a cost of 1.4 million, according to Teresa Reger, the Buffalo chapter’s president.
Viewers gazed at the renovated facade that now boasts buff brick, glazed white terra cotta and limestone trim. Inside, visitors paraded through the freshly painted and polished spaces, while moving images of founder L. Ron Hubbard appeared on plasma screens.
Scientology has attracted its share of Hollywood stars, including Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley. On Sunday, Jenna Elfman, star of “Dharma and Greg” and the new movie, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” was present.
Elfman – who has opened a small church in San Francisco – said she has found Scientology helps artists deal with life.
“Artists breathe life into a culture, but there are also people who suck the life from them. Those people cause problems, and you have to understand how to deal with those problems when they come up.
“Scientology is so great for artists because it really allows you to be yourself,” Elfman said.
She said that because Scientology had given her the answers she was seeking, she had never looked into cult accusations.
“Before I ever heard anything bad, I read “Dianetics,” and it made a lot of sense to me. When I know something is true for me, it’s my integrity, and I don’t care what anybody says.”
Buffalo native and rock bassist Billy Sheehan was also on hand to share his belief in Scientology.
“It’s been my secret weapon, something I can fall back on when I’m up against the impossible,” Sheehan said.
The Buffalo center will now be the regional home to scientologists in Western and Central New York, Pennsylvania and some parts of Ohio and Canada.