What to do — and how to do it — with large and/or historic synagogues closed because of dwindling congregations remain key issues, which we have written about several times in the past. Conversion into housing is one solution — we have noted cases in England, and there are also such cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.
One example in England is the former Jesmond synagogue in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was built in 1915 but closed for workshop in 1986. After that it was used as a girls’ school but recently it was converted into a luxury apartments complex, called Byzantine House.
The conversion maintained the original facade and Moorish-style arched entryway, with Hebrew inscriptions and an ornate central stained glass window with a Star of David, as well as the original mosaic floor in the entryway, but otherwise converted the interior into 10 one and two-bedroom flats.
In June, Newcastle’s Lord Mayor David Cook joined members of the local Jewish community, as well as city officials and the property development firm, to unveil a plaque on the exterior of the building, designating it as a former synagogue and recalling its history.
The plaque reads: “Jesmond Synagogue – Synagogue designed by local architect Marcus K Glass, opened in 1915. Served the Jewish Hebrew Congregation and, from 1973, the United Hebrew Congregation of Newcastle upon Tyne, until closure of the building in 1986.”
In the video below, Cook explains the importance of this recognition and the importance of the building. He states:
This is a building of huge historic significance. That’s not just to the Jewish community of Newcastle but also to the Jewish architectural history of the whole country.
There’s an enormous danger when historic buildings change their use that their heritage is lost but this fantastic building has been retained and I’m delighted we still have it here in Jesmond.
The conversion of the synagogue into apartments was carried by a new Newcastle property development firm, Provenance Developments, founded by two women. In the video below, one of them, Melanie Brown, describes the conversion: