Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Birthday Dankmar Adler! (born July 3, 1844)

 Dankmar Adler (1844-1900). Photo: 

Chicago, Il. Isaiah Temple. Dankmar Adler, architect (1898). Now Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2008

Happy Birthday Dankmar Adler! (born July 3, 1844) 
by Samuel D. Gruber

Today is the 170th anniversary of the birth of noted Jewish-American architect and engineer Dankmar Adler, who gained famed in Chicago in the last decades of the 19th century. Adler was born in Stadtlengsfeld, Germany, and came to America in 1854  with his father, Rabbi Liebman Adler, stepmother and siblings.  The family settled in Detroit, and later moved to Chicago.  Dankmar's grandfather had also been a rabbi or teacher. 

Adler is celebrated in Chicago as one of those who helped reshape the city after the great fire of 1871. He is remembered as a great engineer; a pioneer of public halls with excellent acoustics, as one of the creators of the Chicago or skyscraper style, and for his partnership with Louis Sullivan that produced important and innovative buildings such as the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri (1890-91), the Chicago Stock Exchange Building (with Sullivan, 1894, demolished), the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY (1895-96).  Adler's Chicago  Central Music Hall (1878-80, demolished), Auditorium Building (with Sullivan, 1889) and Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue (with Sullivan,1890-91), were celebrated for their acoustical engineering.  

 Chicago, IL. Auditorium Building, Adler & Sullivan, architects (1889). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 2004

Buffalo, NY. The Guaranty Building, Adler & Sullivan, architect (1895-96).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 2013.

Adler is not, however, usually remembered as an architect of synagogues, or even as a Jewish architect.  Paul Sprague's 1982 entry in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architecture (Vol 1, 34-35) only treats Adler's work with Sullivan, and makes no mention of his religion or his synagogues.  Thirty years later Adler's Wikipedia biography, for example, designates him as "a celebrated German-born American architect."  This may have been enough during the Civil War and the years following when Adler received his training.  Actually, at the time it was probably advantageous to be designated German rather than Jew.  But Adler never separated himself from his religion, as did immigrant Jewish New York architect Leopold Eidlitz.  I can't say that Adler brought anything specifically Jewish to his architecture - though his interest in acoustics and interior space may have begun as a boy having to sit through so many services.  But he certainly brought architecture and design to synagogues.

Chicago, Il. Sinai Congregation (Temple Sinai). Dankmar Adler et al (1875, 1891-2, demolished)

Today, however, Adler's Judaism is of some interest, because he belonged to a very small fraternity of Jewish architects practicing in 19th-century America.  The best account of Adler's early life and career pre-Sullivan (1880) is by his granddaughter Joan W. Saltzstein, prepared with Charles E. Gregersen and included in Gergersen's monograph Dankmar Adler: His Theatres and Auditoriums (Ohio Univ. Press, 1990).  Saltzstein got information direct from an autobiographical manuscript drafted by Adler, now in the Newberry Library, and from Adler's account we know he was deeply rooted in his Jewish community.  His father Liebman Adler was rabbi of Chicago's first synagogue, the Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (K.A.M.) Temple, from 1861-1883, and his father-in-law Abraham Kohn was an early settler in Chicago (1844), prominent businessman, and founding member of  K.A.M. Temple. Kohn also was friends with local politician Abraham Lincoln and in 1861 presented Lincoln a painting of an American Flag with Hebrew lettering on it [see Inventory of the Dankmar Adler Papers, 1857-1984].  

In Detroit, Liebman Adler had been hired as the second rabbi to serve the still new Beth El Society (today's Temple Beth El), which by 1856 was already adopting reforms, which soon led to a congregational split in 1861, the same year that Rabbi Adler chose to move to Chicago to lead Kehilath Anshe Maarav (KAM) an older congregation but one that was also moving toward Reform.  Both Beth El and KAM would go on to be among the first members of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Young Dankmar, however,  was thoroughly Americanized, though German would have been a common language in mid-century Detroit.  He attended public schools in Detroit and Ann Arbor, but because he didn't pass the entrance exams to the University of Michigan his father found him employment with architect John Schaefer who introduced Dankmar to some basics of architectural drawing.  In 1861, in Chicago, he entered the office of German-born architect August Bauer, where he may begun to learn some engineering.  But in July 1862, Adler enlisted in the First Regiment of the Illinois Light Artillery, and remained in the army, fighting in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, until discharged at the end of the war in 1865.  During the last nine months of his enlistment he was attached to the Topographical Engineer's Office of the Military Division of Tennessee as a draftsman.  This is where his real training began, and where he changed from immigrant to insider.  He wrote "I made as good use of my time and was well equipped for my life's work as if my studies had been pursued at home."  

After the war Adler joined the firm of Ozia D. Kinney, where he soon became foreman, supervising the erection of religious and institutional buildings throughout the Midwest. When Kinney died in 1869, Adler joined in partnership with Kinney's son to form Kinney & Adler, which continued work until 1871, when Adler went to work with more senior architect Edward Burling.  This was the year of Chicago's Great Fire - and for the rest of the decade Burling and Adler could hardly keep up with the work. It was during this period that Adler developed what would be his working method - where he would plan the buildings' form and structure, but would leave the "dressing" to others.  In 1880 he went out on his own, but hired the young Louis Sullivan as his assistant and  soon-to-be partner.  For the next 15 years the pair designed scores of buildings including several functional and aesthetic masterpieces, especially the Auditorium Building which really established their fame.  The partnership ended amicably in 1895.  The economy was bad, their style had fallen from fashion, and work was slow.

 Chicago, Illinois. Zion Temple.  Adler & Sullivan, architects (1885).  Original design with towers.  This harks back to more famous two-towered Moorish designs of the 1860s.   Photo from Gregersen, Dankmar Adler, 1990, fig. 41

  Chicago, Illinois. Zion Temple.  Adler & Sullivan, architects (1885).  Too bad we don't know the colors here.  Photo from Gregersen, Dankmar Adler, 1990, fig. 43
Chicago, Illinois. Zion Temple.  Adler & Sullivan, architects (1885, demolished 1950).  Facade as built without towers.  Gregerson writes (p. 62): "Although the original design of the front with its twin onion-domed towers would have made the building somewhat monumental, the omission of these features in the completed building gave it a stumpy appearance that Sullivan's crude Moorish-inspired details only accentuated."  Photo from Gregersen, Dankmar Adler, 1990, fig. 42

Adler was also a prolific architect for Chicago's growing Jewish community, and he was the forefront of setting the city's synagogue styles in the last quarter of the 19th century.   His choice of  decorative style varied, as his focus was primarily on structure and acoustics and he relied on the talents of more skilled ornamentalists, especially Sullivan.

In the 1875-76, when still with Burling, Adler designed Sinai Temple, after a limited competition against four other architectural firms.  Adler's Jewish credentials may have helped win the commission, which he executed with the help of John H. Edelmann, possibly assisted by  Sullivan.   The most remarkable feature was the tall square dome atop a central facade tower, flanked by lower towers with similar domes.  Adler & Sullivan were subsequently hired in 1891 to substantially lengthen the building, which led to a complete interior renovation.  The facade dome is a fairly common element on synagogues in the 1890s (such as Brunner's Beth El in NY), but this may be one of the earliest examples (I'll explore this in a future blogpost).

 Chicago, Il. Sinai Congregation.  Dankmar Adler et al (1875, 1891-2). From postcard.

                      Chicago, Il. Sinai Congregation.  Adler & Sullivan (1891-2 remodel). View to bimah.

Adler & Sullivan employed a robust and integrated use of the Moorish style in their Zion Temple of 1884-85, though their original design was not built in full - the two ornamental towers were left off - unfortunately truncating the design.  Later, their buildings tended toward variations of the Romanesque style. This is best seen in what is their most admired synagogue, the new K.A.M Temple built in 1890-91, which later served the famous Pilgrim Baptist Church until the interior was destroyed be a devastating fire in 2007.

Chicago, Il. K.A.M. Temple. Adler & Sullivan (1890-91). Historic photo.

Chicago, Il. K.A.M. Temple. Adler & Sullivan (1890-91). Historic photo.

Chicago, Il. K.A.M. Temple. Adler & Sullivan (1890-91). Interior.

Chicago, Il. K.A.M. Temple. Adler & Sullivan (1890-91). After fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2008).

In the late 1890s, the same years that New York synagogue architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) was developing his new Jewish classicism, Adler also changed the outward appearance of his buildings in Chicago - perhaps for personal reason, but more likely to keep up with the post-Columbian Exposition times. His Temple Isaiah of 1897-98, the last building he finished, was designed in a Palladian style much more in keeping with the new American Renaissance taste than anything he had previously designed.  Today, the building is well maintained as the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church (and I thank the church deacons for facilitating my visit back in May, 2008).  Although the synagogue/church has an Ionic portico surmounted by a large arch on one side, and one window wall articulated with a large triple arch, the overall effect is still subdued and almost utilitarian – much like a music hall  or train station. It does not stand out as a civic monument. The overall effect is similar to that of some contemporary churches, which in the 1890 began increasingly to transform their Romanesque detailing to Renaissance forms. Temple Isaiah, however, has no bell tower.

Chicago, Il. Isaiah Temple. Dankmar Adler, architect (1898). Now Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2008

Chicago, Il. Isaiah Temple. Dankmar Adler, architect (1898). Now Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2008

Adler died in 1900, soon after the completion of Temple Isaiah, but its influence lingered. In the next five years, several examples of Renaissance style synagogues recalled Temple Isaiah in form and some details, but these buildings are all surmounted by central domes. Classicism in different forms continued in Chicago Reform synagogues for more than a decade and then was picked up again by Orthodox and Conservative congregations in the 1920s.  One of the finest contributions was by the young Jewish architect Alfred Alschuler (1876-1940) who, after graduating from the Armour Institute of Technology (now IIT), went to work for Adler, probably just as Temple Isaiah was completed. Alschuler later designed many important Chicago buildings, including synagogues, but his classical style Sinai Temple of 1909 (now Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church), not far from Temple Isaiah, remains one of his best. 

For further reading see:   

Charles E. Gregerson,  Dankmar Adler: His Theatres and Auditoriums, with a biography of Dankmar Adler prepared in collaboration with Joan W. Saltzstein.  (Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1990).

For photos and brief histories of various Chicago congregations, see Lauren Weingarden Rader, "Synagogue Architecture in Illinois," Faith & Form: Synagogue Architecture in Illinois. An Exhibition Organized by the Spertus Museum (Chicago: Spertus College Press, 1976); and also George Lane, Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1981).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jewish Heritage Europe Website Launches Monthly Newsletter

Jewish Heritage Europe Website Launches Monthly Newsletter

Ruth Ellen Gruber, who edits the web site Jewish Heritage Europe (JHE) and the Rothschild Foundation, which is the web site sponsor, have announced the launch of a monthly newsletter. The first edition was released this week and contains a description of the web site's features as well as highlights from the site's regular almost-daily news feed.
JHE is an expanding web portal to news, information and resources concerning Jewish monuments and heritage sites all over Europe. A project of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, JHE fosters communication and information exchange regarding projects, initiatives and other developments: restoration, funding, projects, best-practices, advisory services and more.

The newsfeed is updated almost daily, and by now, with well over 500 posts, it represents a major searchable database of information on the contemporary status of Jewish built heritage in Europe.

JHE solicits information, news links and scholarly and opinion pieces related to Jewish heritage sites and issues in Europe. Comments, information and other submissions can be made via the website.

Take a look at the website and follow it (on Facebook, too) -- and/or subscribe and share the Newsletter, too.
Click here to see the Newsletter

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kehila Kedosha Janina and Greek Jewish Culture and History

 New York, NY. Kehila Kedosha Janina, Interior.  Photo: Vincent Giordano / ISJM

Kehila Kedosha Janina and Greek Jewish Culture and History
by Samuel D. Gruber

Kehila Kedosha Janina of New York, located at 280 Broome Street, is the only Romaniote synagogue in the New World.   In recent years the historic synagogue, built in 1927 and designated a landmark by the City of New York in 2004, has been entirely restored - while fully maintaining every aspect of its historic appearance (the art, architecture and community of KKJ were documented by the late Vincent Giordano in a project sponsored by ISJM in partnership with KKJ).  A small exhibition space has been created in the basement where some of Mr. giordano's photos are on view, and a museum of Greek-Jewish heritage installed in the women's gallery.  The Museum, energetically curated by Haddad Ikonomopoulos, actively collects family histories - through physical objects and documents and filmed oral histories.  

KKJ maintains weekly religious services, with Shabbat morning services followed by a traditional Greek Jewish kiddish.  Synagogue and museum regularly schedule public events - lectures, concerts, etc.  

 New York, NY. Kehila Kedosha Janina, Interior.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2005)

Marcia publishes an e-newsletter which now reaches some 6,000 recipients.   The newest issue, the 65th, covers news of the KKJ community, and commemorates the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jewish Communities of Rhodes and  Kos (July 26, 1944) and also wider news concerning Greek Jewry.  

[There will also be a commemorative symposium on the Holocaust in the Aegean, and especially on the deportation of the Jews of Rhodes & Cos: 1944-2014, held on Rhodes this coming  July 22-24 (2014).  More information can be found at]
Back issues of the newsletters can be found on the KKJ website  To subscribe, contact KKJ at

KKJ's congregation is small, so contributions to maintain Kehila Kedosha Janina's building and museum are always welcome.  Checks (in US dollars) can be sent to KKJ at 280 Broome Street, New York, NY 10002 (attention Marcia). Donations enable the community to continue to hold services and preserve Romaniote traditions and customs. 

When in New York, be sure to schedule a visit to KKJ on Broome Street on the Lower East Side.  The synagogue is open for services every Saturday and all major Jewish holidays and the Museum is open every Sunday from 11-4 and, by appointment during the week.  Special Judeo-Greek themed events can be arranged for groups.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

USA: Former Iowa Synagogue up for Sale

 Muscataine, Iowa.  Former B'nai Moses Synagogue, built 1893.  Photo: Jason Liegois / Muscatine Journal

Muscataine, Iowa.  Former B'nai Moses Synagogue Ark, made by Charles Smith in 1905.  Photo:  Jason Liegois / Muscatine Journal

USA: Former Iowa Synagogue up for Sale
by Samuel D. Gruber 

[n.b. updated 6/18/2014]

The Muscatine Journal of Muscatine, Iowa reports that the former B'nai Moses synagogue, reputedly built in the late 19th century is up for sale, after being owned for more than two decades by a local theater group.  The building retains a Star of David over its entrance, and an impressive original Ark built by Charles Smith into the east wall (see Fleishaker's description below). It is not clear what will happen to the building.  

You can read more here:

Though different in most details, the Ark does bring to mind that other famous and famously ornate Iowa ark built by Abraham Shulkin for the Adath Yeshurun Synagogue in Sioux City, Iowa in 1899 now in the Jewish Museum, New York.

I had not previously known of this synagogue, and it is not listed by Mark Gordon on his list of extant purpose-built American synagogue buildings published in 1986 and updated in 1996. [Mark W. Gordon, Rediscovering Jewish Infrastructure: Update on United States Nineteenth Century Synagogues,  American Jewish History 84.1 (1996) 11-27], but the congregation is reported by Osacar Fleishaker to have been founded in the 1890 and the synagogue built in 1893.

From: Rabbi Oscar Fleishaker, The Illinois-Iowa Jewish community on the banks of the Mississippi River (doctoral dissertation 1957)

In March 10, 1890 t the first Congregation and what was to be the only one in Muscatine history was founded. It was called B'nai Moses. The Articles of Incorporation were signed by Mr. M. Rubenstein, B. Shames, Jacob Wolff and B. Goldstein. The other charter members were Isaac Helman, Hyman Share, Louis Siegel, Joe Siegel, Simon Lieflander, E. Powelanky and Charles Smith. The Congregation was very poor and money had to be borrowed for a charter. The Articles of Incorporation are quite interesting (see page 146). The name used is "Congregation of Israel of Moses Meier." The "Bible" is the Torah Scroll. Jake and Charles Smith were designated to build the Synagogue which they probably started in 1891. 

Meanwhile Joseph Bleeden had arrived in New York from Europe. After a few months there, he came to Muscatine to join his landsleite , his townsmen from Europe, and he became the Rabbi of Muscatine's Jewish Community. Religious services and classes were held in his home at 715 East 7th Street near where the Synagogue was being built. The new frame Synagogue was opened for worship, classes, and social events in 1893. (See page 147.) An insurance policy dated March 26, 1894, to cover the cost of the building in case of fire had a face value of $1,500 and was made out to A. C. Smith and N. Click. The Congregation had thirty members, and was very traditional, following all its European customs. Rabbi Bleeden served his landsleite until his death, April 11, 1916, at the age of fifty- eight. His children contributed the interesting picture which shows the 1910 group of Talmud Torah children outside of Rabbi Bleeden's home.
Rabbi Fleishaker has this to say about the Ark:
Charles Smith soon built a new ark for the Synagogue in 1905 and rather immodestly inscribed his name, which in Hebrew was Bezalel, over the ark with four Hebrew words which mean "And Bezalel made the Ark." These four Hebrew words along with the Hebrew date 5,666 (1905-1906) are inscribed over the B'nai Moses Ark.
The small wood frame building is similar to many others built by Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants soon after the first wave of Eastern-European emigration and the establishment of Lithuanian-American shtetlach in town across the country. This history which has been mostly neglected by historians of the American Jewish experience, offers an fascinating alternative narrative to the dominant one - of Jewish immigrants in the majors cities, and especially in new Jewish "ghettos" such as New York's Lower East Side and Philadelphia's South and Bainbridge Streets.  The Little Jerusalem of Burlington, Vermont, the subject of a recent documentary film and an effort to save at 1910 synagogue mural is one example of these Lithuanian-Jewish settlements, as is Brenham, Texas, where some of my own ancestors lived, and where they founded the B'nai Abraham synagogue.  

 Brenham, Texas. B'nai Abraham, built 1893. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 1988

The Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington built in 1884 was brick, and is still used by the Ahavath Gerim minyan, but Congregation Chai Adam, which split off in 1889 and closed in the 1930s, built a wood frame synagogue (decorated with a mural in 1910).  The B'nai Abraham Synagogue in Brenham, Texas, built like Muscataine in 1893, still retains its Jewish identity, but will be entirely moved to Austin,Texas, later this year, where it will again be used regularly for Jewish worship.  Scores of similar brick or wood synagogues were once in towns across the country, but even today a good many of these remain.