Volunteers from near and far help restore Church of Scientology's new
By MARK SOMMER
News Staff Reporter
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
"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
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.