Tuesday, July 12, 2016

USA: North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, a Percival Goodman Designed "Jeweled Crown" in Highland Park, Illinois

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Entrance. Percival Goodman, architect of sanctuary, 1964; Bernheim and Kahn, architects of entryway, 1980s. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.
 
Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Sanctuary. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

USA: North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, a Percival Goodman Designed "Jeweled Crown" in Highland Park, Illinois
by Samuel D. Gruber

[14 July 2016. n.b. this post has been corrected to reflect the contribution of architects Bernheim and Kahn in the late 1980s]

When in the Chicago area recently I had the chance to visit for the first time the North Suburban Synagogue Beth El (NSSBethEl) in Highland Park, Illinois.  The congregation was founded in 1947, and after opening a new school building in 1953, built a community center and auditorium, where services were held beginning in 1957.  Only then did work begin for a purpose-built sanctuary, and this was designed by Percival Goodman and begun by 1962.
(Read history of the congregation here). Additions have been made to the complex in the years since, including a new and attractive entrance in the 1980s.

Dedicated in 1964, the fine and distinctive building, referred to as "a jeweled crown" because of its shape and decoration, is too little known in the world of synagogue architecture, and certainly has been overshadowed by its near-contemporary neighbor, the North Shore Congregation Israel by Minoru Yamasaki. NSSBethEl, however, surely ranks among the best designed and best preserved synagogues of the 1960s. In addition to its architecture, it houses an impressive ark, menorah and other metalwork by Ludwig Wolpert.

NSSBethEl is one of several synagogues of this period in which architect Goodman was clearly trying to come up with striking new designs in competition with the much publicized grand-gesture work of star (and not Jewish) architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Pietro Belluschi, Yamasaki and others - while maintaining the warmth and almost vernacular simplicity that marked his early work and adoption of everyday materials.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.
The key to the complex is a round drum flanked by a low sweeping entryway, around which is wrapped  a sprawling complex. The drum appears to be made of pre-fab concrete slabs joined together (presumably around a steel frame), a technology not-unlike Yamasaki's use of pre-fab slabs at North Shore congregation Israel. The round drum recalls the contemporary sanctuary at Brith Kodesh in Rochester, designed by Pietro Belluschi and also completed in 1964. While round sanctuaries have their problems, it is worth noting the North Shore, overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of their huge 1960s sanctuary, built a smaller and round one in the 1980s, designed by Thomas Beebe, at the other end of their complex.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

The unusual window shapes, and the use of small rectangular openings filled with solid pane colored glass, recalls Goodman's use of color and light in the Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio (1957), and also recalls Philip Johnson's work at Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, New York (1956).

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Ark and menorah by Ludwig Wolpert. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.
 
Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

Despite the curved shape of the sanctuary space, the rear wall does slide open - with much effort - to connect the space with the social hall, a favorite device of Goodman to accommodate the difference in congregation size between Shabbat and High Holiday services.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

Highland Park, IL. North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. Percival Goodman, architect, 1964. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016. 

I want to thank the staff of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El for allowing me access to the building on very short notice, and for their dedication to maintaining this exciting work of mid-century modern synagogue architecture.



Friday, May 27, 2016

Happy Birthday Henry Hohauser, Miami Art Deco Master (b. May 27, 1895)

Miami Beach, Fl. Congregation Beth Jacob new sanctuary (1936). Henry Hohauser, architect. Postcard courtesy William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection, College of Charleston
Happy Birthday Henry Hohauser,  Miami Art Deco Master  (b. May 27, 1895)

Celebrated Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser was born in New York (Brooklyn?) on May 27, 1895. He studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before moving to Florida in 1932, where he was able to create a successful practice even during the Great Depression.  His work include hotels, theaters, apartments and houses built simply and affordably and aimed at middle class budgets - especially of tourists. He designed more than 300 buildings, many of which today are part of  the Miami Beach Art Deco Historic District. Before there was Las Vegas there was Henry Hohauser's Miami Beach.
 
He was member of Congregation Beth Jacob on Miami Beach and built their synagogue extension in 1932 which today houses the Jewish Museum of Florida. Hohauser's career created the model for many other Jewish architects (often from New York like Morris Lapidus) who found work and reputations in South Florida in the post-World War II period. 

Besides Beth Jacob, some of Hohauser's best known buildings are the  Carlton,Essex House, Beachcomber, Congress,  Crescent, and Cardozo hotels.

Henry Hohauser died in Lawrence, New York in 1963. 

Miami Beach, Fl. Crescent Hotel, 1420 Ocean Dr . Henry Hohauser, arch., 1938
Miami Beach, Fl. Cardozo Hotel,  1300 Ocean Drive. Henry Hohauser, arch., 1939.
From the Jewish Museum of Florida

"Congregation Beth Jacob (founded 1927) was the first Jewish congregation in Miami Beach to erect a synagogue in 1929 at 311 Washington Avenue. As the congregation expanded in the 1930s, a new, larger building was built (1936), next door at 301 Washington, designed by congregation member and noted Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser. We think that the synagogue was Hohauser's first project on Miami Beach. Hohauser was responsible for the design of more than 100 Streamline Moderne-styled hotels, apartments, and other structures on Miami Beach in the 1930s and 40s.
Miami Beach, Fl. Congregation Beth Jacob new sanctuary (1932). Henry Hohauser, architect. Photo: ISJM (ca. 1990)
Miami Beach, Fl. Congregation Beth Jacob new sanctuary (1932). Henry Hohauser, architect. Wedding. Photo: Jewish Museum of Florida.
Miami Beach, Fl. Congregation Beth Jacob new sanctuary (1932). Henry Hohauser, architect.  Sanctuary when first established as museum. photo: ISJM (ca. 1997). 

Primary space, 301

The Museum's primary building (301) was erected in 1936 as the second sanctuary for Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation (Orthodox).

This structure boasts 77 colorful stained glass windows, eight Art Deco chandeliers, marble bimah, decorative exterior concrete relief panels and a copper Moorish dome. In its original configuration, the building held 850 people in theater-style seating with a women's balcony. The floor was sloped to allow worshippers to see and hear the religious services.

The structure was built at a cost of $40,000 with the same elements and materials as the adjacent original synagogue that was built seven years earlier. The front elevations of both buildings have the same gable and two-story rectangular plans. The central double door of 301 Washington Avenue has inset panels, highlighting the Star of David. The main entrance is elevated by ten steps surfaced in tile and is approached from three sides. Above the door is a large arched stained glass window that represents the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Jews on Mount Sinai with the rays of the Divine presence streaming down from the clouds. The entrance is flanked by coupled fluted pilasters of cast stone, topped by composite capitals with the fluting continuing in the arch. The original light fixtures and stair railings remain. Multi-color Art Deco friezes with the Star of David are located between the first and second floor windows on all four sides of the building.

A copper dome mounted in an octagonal drum crowns the outside of the building. Each side of the drum has an octagonal stained glass window with a central Star of David. The rear elevation is a symmetrical composition with windows flanking the central projecting beam. Above, a stained glass window depicts the Menorah.

The interior ceiling is a shallow barrel vault with seven Deco chandeliers and another larger chandelier suspended from the top of the copper dome. Six arches in the ceiling connect twelve columns on the northern and southern walls. The columns contain the Star of David and Menorah-like sconces.

When the structure was built, it had no air conditioning. The transparent glass windows had to be opened during services, letting in the street noises and the beach's blowing sand and dust. When Rabbi Moses Mescheloff (spiritual leader 1937-1955) addressed the congregation with the windows and doors open, he had to speak so loudly that he could be heard a block away. The sun shone so brightly that it was impossible for the worshippers to read their prayer books.

The solution was determined as installing stained glass windows that were designed by Rabbi Mescheloff with graphic symbols to proclaim the messages of the foundations of Judaism. They create an environment beautifully enriched with the aspirations of the principles of the Jewish faith. The stained glass windows, installed in 1940, were fabricated in Hialeah.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

New Exhibit in Leeds Highlights Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe (1918-2006)

South Bend, Indiana. Temple Beth El. Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe, sculptor, 1947. Photo: Bigby Photo co. in Kampf, Contemporary Synagogue Art, 106


New Exhibit in Leeds Highlights Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe (1918-2006) 
by Samuel D. Gruber

A new exhibition at The University of Leeds (England) celebrates the work of American born and trained artist Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe. She was born January 1, 1918 and studied at the Art Students League of New York from 1930 to 1933 and then at Columbia University from 1935, where she received her M.A. in 1940 Read more about her life here.

Mitzi Solomon was already beginning a notable career in America when she married historian Marcus Cunliffe in 1949, and moved to England, her home for the rest of her long life. I assume Solomon Cunliffe was Jewish by birth, or that at least her father (Abraham Solomon) was (if anyone knows for sure, let me know). She was one of small group of American women sculptors who contributed modern art to modern synagogues, something she seems ot have done only before her move to England.



South Bend, Indiana. Temple Beth El. Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe, sculptor, 1947-1950. Photo: Temple Beth El website.

Cunliffe contributed a striking relief to the entrance area of Temple Beth El in South Bend, Indiana in 1947.  The synagogue, designed by architects Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett, was among the first modernist synagogues built after World War II.  The relief represents the roots and branches of a tree, with the branches intertwined into an abstract design over which is laid a much smaller, narrow set of stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, inscribed with the first letters in HebrewIn the words of Avram Kampf "It is quite possible that the artist attempted to evoke the sense and significance of the moral law at the roots of a civilized life and its specific places within the Hebraic tradition."Significantly, Cunliffe's synagogue relief work is much less well known than contemporary (and later) works by Herbert Ferber and Ibram Lassaw, about which I have written before.  The neglect is probably as much due to the location of the work in Indiana as to the artist's gender. But Cunliffe's work pre-dates synagogue sculpture by Luise Kaish, Louise Nevelson and others by more than a decade.


Leeds, England. "Man-Made Fibres," portland Stone. Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe, sculptor, 1956. Photo: University of Leeds

The pattern of tree is related to the type of patterning the Cunliffe developed in much of her other work through the 1950s.  In Egnland, Cunliffe got her first big break in 1951 with two major works for the Festival of Britain exhibition on London’s South Bank. She also was especially active in Manchester throughout her career. The Leeds exhibit specifically celebrates the 60th anniversary of her work  'Man-Made Fibres' at the University from 1954-56. But Cunliffe is best known in the UK, when she spent the second half of her life, for her BAFTA mask - the English equivalent of the American Oscar statue - presented to the country's leading film performers

The BAFTA award, designed by Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe continued to make art late in life, even as she suffered form Alzheimer's Disease. She died in 2006. Read her obituary in the Guardian here 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Happy Birthday Richard Neutra (April 8, 1892 – April 16, 1970)!

 Richard Neutra (1892-1970). Photo: Ed Clark
Happy Birthday Richard Neutra (April 8, 1892 – April 16, 1970)!
by Samuel D. Gruber

Today is the birthday of the great Austrian-born American modernist architect Richard Neutra. though not often remembered, Neutra's early career in Europe and America was very much a part of a broad Jewish modernist culture.  Many of his artistic and architectural influences and his patrons came from the educated and artistic - and often experimental -  Austrian and German-born Jewish intelligentsia of the interwar period, even - or especially - once he arrived in Southern California. 

There have been many fine books, exhibits and articles about Neutra's architecture, particularly his striking modernist houses which still delight, amaze and inspire today. In this post, I quote from a paper I gave at the College Art Association annual meeting in 2013 that  addressed only some Jewish aspects of Neutra's work.  This discussion was in the context of the careers and influence of about a dozen Jewish European immigrant and refugees architect to America.

This passage deal with the Jewish world in which Neutra worked. Most important in history of synagogue architecture, however, is Neutra's 1924 synagogue design for the Vienna-Hietzing competition. though unbuilt it presage - a probably had a direct influence - on the preferred form of the post-World War II (often suburban) American synagogue center.

For a more detailed examination of Neutra's work from the architectural perspective see Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982) and the MoMa catalogue by Hines and Arthur Drexler  The Architecture of Richard Neutra: From International Style to California Modern, (NY: MoMA, 1982), and subsequent works by Sylvia Lavin, Barbara Lamprecht and others.

From "Newish and Jewish from Europe: Refugees, Survivors and the Spread of Modernism in the Post-World War II American Jewish Community," a paper delivered by Samuel D. Gruber at annual meeting of the College Art Association (February 2013) in the session 

"Richard Neutra had absorbed Wright's designs in Europe from the Wasmuth publication. But Neutra had also worked in Berlin for the Expressionist Erich Mendelsohn, and with Mendelsohn had contacts as early as 1922 with Jewish clients when the two submitted a successful proposal for a commercial center in Haifa, Palestine. 

Almost immediately upon arriving in New York in 1923 – hoping to work, like Schindler, for Wright; Neutra was engaged by an International Zionist committee, including Albert Einstein, Rabbi Stephen Wise and Modechai Kaplan, to design a library for the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The audacious building, which combines elements of Wright and Mendelsohn, was promoted by the committee but never built.
Richard Neutra. Unbuilt design for Jewish Library, Jerusalem, 1923. Drwg reproduced in The Architecture of Richard Neutra: From International Style to California Modern, (NY: MoMA, 1982), p. 34.
Moving to Chicago, Neutra found a job with Holabird and Roche, but took creative work on the side for the North Shore Temple, designing a new building – without pay, but for the stimulation. The unbuilt design, influenced by Wright, includes formal features not found in synagogues until the 1960s. In November 1924 he achieved his dream – and went to work with Wright at Taliesin.

Richard Neutra. Unbuilt design for Northshore Temple, Chicago, 1924
Sometime in this period he prepared the synagogue-center design submitted unsuccessfully to a Vienna competition. This also owes much to Wright and Mendelsohn, for whom Neutra was interpreter and liaison when Mendelsohn visited Taliesen for several days. Neutra continued to play this role throughout his career, interpreting and blending ideas from the two masters.  But even though many of Neutra's Jewish Center ideas were later picked up by other architects, including Mendelsohn, in America; none of the LA architects needed to, or chose to express, a strong Jewish identity. Maybe three rejections were enough for Neutra.

Vienna-Hietzing competition, 1924.  Richard Neutra project. Published in Menorah Nov-Dec 1929.
St. Louis, MO. Bnai Amoona. Eric Mendelsohn, architect, 1949. Model.
In any case, there is nothing Jewish implicit or explicit in their residential work. Still, many of their clients were Jewish; such as natural-living guru Philip Lovell and wife Leah; the German-Jewish painter Galka Emmy Scheyer; and the Pittsburgh Kaufmanns, patrons of the now-iconic Desert House. The professional and social world in which these architects and clients flourished had a strong German and New York Jewish presence.

Historian Gavriel Rosenfeld has grouped Neutra and Schindler as “Non-Jewish” Jewish Architects: Profiles in Evasion;” in his book Building after Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust, but I think the situation is more nuanced; even simple encounters with their buildings made other Jews more modern, and thus modernism more Jewish."
Los Angeles, CA. Lovell House,Richard Neutra, arch. 1927-29. Photo: Wikimedia.
Palm Springs, CA. Kaufmann Desert House.Richard Neutra, architect 1946. Photo: Barbara Alfors 2000