Saturday, March 17, 2012

Off Geographical Topic -- historic synagogues being razed in US

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Every so often I like (or actually dislike) to post news demonstrating how some of the issues regarding what to do with deteriorating or dilapidated synagogues also affect buildings in the United States. Of course, the history is different: the buildings in the US did not lose their congregations because of the Holocaust (or communist pressure) but by normal demographic shifts. Still, there are parallels about preservation versus urban development; funding, memory, and the significance of built heritage.

Two cases in the U.S. are current: the planned demolition of the historic Anshe Kenesseth Israel synagogue building in Chicago, and the threatened demolition of the former Ahavath Sholom synagogue, in Buffalo, NY.

In Chicago, architectural blogger Lee Bey reports that

The old Anshe Kenesseth Israel temple, 3411 W. Douglas Blvd, will come down by force of an emergency demolition order issued by a judge last December. Preservationists, neighborhood residents and the building's owners, Abundant Life World Outreach ministry, had been working to delay demolition and develop a fundraising and reuse plan for the building, As recently as last Sunday, they cleaned up the building's exterior in hopes of convincing the city not to raze the structure.
The owners changed their mind, he reports, and demolition was expected to begin very soon. The once-grand synagogue was built in 1913,  when the neighborhood was largely Jewish. Later, as the neighborhood changed, it became an African-American Baptist church, where Martin Luther King spoke in the 1960s. It closed about a decade ago and has since stood empty. Lee Bey provides vivid photographic documentation  that shows its dual history.

There is a lengthy article, with pictures, about the Buffalo synagogue on the FixBuffalo blog. Built in 1903,  too became a church,  Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, in the 1960s and has stood empty for a decade. The demolition order was issued in December, despite the fact that the building has been designated a local landmark.

In December, Housing Court Judge Patrick Carney issued an order to demolish the City's oldest synagogue, one of the last remaining vestiges of Jewish life on the City's East Side.    The familiar onion domed landmark on Jefferson Avenue was designed by A. E. Minks and Sons and built in 1903.  With the cooperation of Rev. Jerome Ferrell and his congregation, the Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, this historic structure was designated a local landmark by the City's Preservation Board in 1997. 

Samuel D. Gruber discusses the case of the Buffalo synagogue on his blog

The structure is now empty and in disrepair.  The building is one of the last standing synagogue of the "facade-dome" type that was popular at the end of the 19th century.  

Architecturally, the building is most readily notable for its single 'onion' style dome set over the central entrance bay of the facade.  Variations of this type of arrangement are known in synagogue architecture beginning in Europe in the mid-19th century.  One example is the destroyed synagogue of Jelgava, Latvia.  The style was especially common in Moorish style buildings such as Ahavath Sholom.  Major American examples include Temple Sinai in Chicago (Dankmar Adler, arch.) and Temple Beth El in New York (Brunner & Tryon, archs.) which were demolished decades ago. Tiny Gemiluth Chassed in Port Gibson, Mississippi survives. Time may not be long for Buffalo's Ahavath Sholom, but local efforts to save the building may stave off the wrecking ball. [...]
You can read more about the synagogue in this article by Chana Kotzin from the February 10, 2012  issue of the Buffalo Jewish Review.  Kotzin runs the Buffalo Jewish archives and has been collecting history about the building, its congregation and the old East Side Jewish neighborhood. 

 There is a Flickr feed of photos of the synagogue HERE.

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