Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2009)
USA: Syracuse (NY) Former Temple Adath to be Developed as a Hotel
by Samuel D. Gruber
Last April, Reform Temple Society of Concord in Syracuse, NY, dedicated in 1911, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only pre-World War II synagogue building in Syracuse that retains it original congregation and use. The congregation, founded in 1839, will begin celebration of the centennial of the building next year.
Meanwhile, the nearby former Orthodox Beth El was abandoned by its congregation in the 1960s. For awhile, it was a Baptist Church, and now it is used by a Messianic "Jewish" congregation.
The third historic synagogue building at the corner of Harrison St. and Crouse Ave. on "The Hill" (adjacent to the ever-expanding campus of Syracuse University) is the former Temple Adath Yeshurun (TAY), designed by noted Syracuse architect Gordon Wright and dedicated in 1922. The congregation, founded in 1870, had previously occupied the Naistadter Shul built 1878 on Mulberry (now State) Street, just down the hill to the west in what was once the city's prime area of Jewish settlement. Most of the district was demolished as part of 1970's "urban renewal." Wright's brick building is prominently sited and can be seen from afar. The design is simple stolid and severe. It distinguishing exterior feature is 4-column portico in antis, where the columns are unusually tall and narrow, culminating in Egyptian-influenced capitals. A inscription is on the frieze in Hebrew and English declares (from Psalm 118) "Open Ye the Portals of Righteousness I Will Enter and Praise God." A Star of David is set into the pediment.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2009)
TAY's congregation left the building in 1968, and moved to a new complex designed by Percival Goodman just inside the city's eastern boundary. They took some of the stained glass windows which are now installed in the vestibule area between the sanctuary and the social hall (see pictures).
In something of a forced deal, the city of Syracuse bought the large classical-style building from the congregation. Stuck with what many considered at the time (of great economic stress) a "white elephant," the city eventually leased the site to a local theater company. Then, in 2004, when was shown that the Salt City Center for the Performing Arts had failed to sufficiently invest in the building's maintenance, and to keep it up to code, the city evicted the theater group and the building sat empty. The theater had blacked out the sanctuary, and subsequent water damage from the leaking roof destroyed interior plasterwork. Some patterned stained glass was still visible in the building a few years ago. Its not clear what has happened to this. In an auction of the theater's assets, several architectural elements of the building including chandeliers and lights fixtures were inappropriately and possibly illegally sold.
In 2006, local developer Norman Swanson, who owns two nearby hotels and many other properties, offered to buy the building from the city for $352,000 through his company the Woodbine Group. His plan, at a time of increased interest in upscale city housing, was to convert the building to spacious condominiums, and to add on a new apartment tower wing near the building rear, in an area that was already surface parking. The the already compromised interior articulation of the building would be lost, but Swanson promised to restore the exterior, to maintain it "landmark" presence in the neighborhood - an area where much of the older architecture has already been demolished for University and Hospital expansion. The City of Syracuse accepted Swanson's proposal over another which would have utilized the interior for a restaurant and entertainment space, figuring that Swanson was more likely to be able to find funding for his project. The Preservation Association of Central New York (of which I was Board President) analyzed both plans and endorsed Swanson's as the best way to both save the empty and deteriorating building and to benefit the local tax base, too.
The difficult economy which compounded the always difficult development process in Syracuse postponed Swanson's plans. He did go ahead with the exterior restoration, but had to change his plan for housing to project with commercial space (to be called "Temple Commons." That plan, too, has failed, and now Swanson will break ground in October on a new adaptive reuse plan, transforming the building into a boutique hotel. Running hotels is something Swanson does well, and a few years ago the Preservation Association gave Swanson's company an award for its sensitive transformation of the 1920s Medical Arts Building into Parkview Hotel. Despite problems in the local hotel market (the nearby Renaissance Hotel, next to to the Parkview has just gone into foreclosure) Swanson believes he can make the new hotel work - drawing on the constant need for high quality rooms near the University, three local hospitals, and new research facilities. Swanson hopes to make use of various tax credits, and his goal is to receive a gold certificate from the U S green Building Council as art of the LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) program. The building, may also be eligible for some Historic Preservation Tex credits.
The Preservation Association which continues to support the project, has long maintained the most energy efficient building (when considering issues of embedded energy and the energy needed for demolition and new construction) is an older building that continues in use or is reused.
Architect Gordon Wright built two other notable religious buildings in Syracuse. Both the downtown Gothic style Mizpah Tower, renowned for its exceptional and extravagant auditorium, and the former First Church of Christ Scientist are unoccupied and endangered. The First Church of Christ Scientist had been purchased by a local credit union to be developed as an Art Center, but this project has been difficult to sustain, and the former church is now again up for sale.