Here’s another article from the United States that focuses on an important issue in Jewish Heritage work in Europe — what to do with synagogues that are no longer used for worship (for whatever reason). In St. Louis, some of these buildings were sold by their congregations when new synagogues were built.
The article, by Bill Motchan in the St. Louis Jewish Light, details the adaptive reuse of several synagogue buildings in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
These include the Congregation B’nai Amoona synagogue, now the Center of Contemporary Arts (COCA). The synagogue, built in 1950 and designed by the influential German emigre architect Erich Mendelsohn, is listed on the Registry of Historic Places — making it “tricky” to make structural changes, as some modifications are not permitted.
“We had to put in a box office and a projection area for the theater,” [architect Andy] Trivers [who oversaw the conversion] said. “The biggest change was the addition of a dance studio and green room. You don’t want to obscure the original location – that would be against the historic preservation rule – so we extended the building into the parking lot.”
Other examples in the article include the magnificent former United Hebrew Congregation synagogue, built in the 1920s, also on the Historic Places Registry and now the Missouri History Museum Library; the former Shaare Emeth, built in 1930, now home to the Washington University 560 Music Center; and the former Congregation Kol Am building, now rehearsal and office space for Stages St. Louis.
Danny Gonzales, now historian and preservationist for the St. Louis County Parks Department, suggests that architectural significance is just one important reason to save old synagogues.
“The thing that gets me excited about the United Hebrew building is the connection to civil rights history,” he said. “Former Rabbi Jerome Grollman marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, and King gave a speech at UH on the future of integration – which, I imagine, some of the contents of that speech still ring true.”
The article is very worth reading, as it deals with a number of issues faced by congregations, synagogues and former synagogues in a major American city with an active Jewish population — that are faced (due to much different circumstances) across Europe.
Click button below to see photo stream of images showing construction and conversion of United Hebrew Congregation synagogue