Friday, October 23, 2009

USA: Beth Sholom to Dedicate New Visitor's Center to Serve Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Synagogue

Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (USA). Beth Sholom Synagogue (1953-57), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photos: Courtesy of Paul Rocheleau

USA: Beth Sholom to Dedicate New Visitor's Center to Serve Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

A new visitor's center for the Beth Sholom Synagogue, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, will be dedicated on November 15, 2009. Beth Sholom, completed in 1959, is one of the best known and most reproduced synagogues in the world. Does that make it one of the best? I've always had mixed feeling about it. I appreciate it's design, but I have always found many aspects gaudy and overblown, and suspect that the big space is not particularly conducive for congregation building (but many large sanctuaries share this problem).

On the other hand it's novelty has helped bring notoriety to the congregation and shape identity, and the exterior massing, the interior space, the changing natural light and the expressive originality always call one back to look and consider. It is often exciting, and certainly never boring. It amazes me that expressive modernism in this case is so venerated, while elsewhere it has been destroyed. This is due, of course, as much to the power of Wright's name as to (very real) virtues of the architecture.

I've written more about the building in my book
American Synagogues: A Century of architecture and Jewish Community (Rizzoli, 2003), 105-109.

ISJM has received the following notice:
Beth Sholom Synagogue Preservation Foundation in Elkins Park, PA will dedicate its new Visitor Center with Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for the New Yorker Magazine, who will speak about Beth Sholom Synagogue on the occasion of its 50 th Anniversary. Guests to the opening event will have an opportunity to see the newly created Visitor Center and to tour the National Historic Landmark building.

As the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Beth Sholom stands as a monument both to twentieth-century design and Jewish interests. The Visitor Center was created to give a greater understanding of the building to the public and to provide an exciting experience that will complement tours of the Wright structure. The Visitor Center interprets Beth Sholom in the contexts of Wright’s life and work and American synagogue architecture. Included in the exhibition is an 18-minute film entitled: “An American Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright, Rabbi Mortimer Cohen and the Making of Beth Sholom,” produced by exhibition designers Picture Projects of New York.

The dedication event is free and open to the public, and will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 15, 2009. The opening event is co-sponsored by Partnership for Scared Spaces, the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. For more information about the event, please contact Beth Sholom at 215-887-1342 or

An extensive gallery of photos of the synagogue can be viewed here.

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