Wednesday, November 24, 2010

USA: Puzzled by Beth Tephilah in Troy, New York

USA: Puzzled by Beth Tephilah in Troy, New York
by Samuel D. Gruber

Troy, New York. Congregation Beth Tephilah. West Facade. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (November, 2010)

In addition to the 1870 Reform Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy, New York, of which I have just written, I was intrigued by the architecture and urban survival of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Tephilah at 82 River Street, right on the southeast corner of Russel Sage College, where it has survived surrounded by parking lots. I have not been inside the building, I haven't found anything in my files, and I haven't yet researched this locally, but the application of a Classical portico on the facade of the otherwise very unclassical building intrigues me. From the outside it looks like an earlier block or two-tower facade has been modified to create a partly classical facade, or perhaps an entirely new facade has been grafted on to the main body of the building. All I've found online are the mention of two dates for the building - 1873 and 1909. Was the congregation founded in 1873? Does the main bulk of the building - which clearly has internal galleries for women - date this early (I don't think so)?

Was the design of the building changed during construction, or was the classical facade added to an earlier building in 1909 to give it a new look? I've just written an article that is coming out in the journal Jewish History in which I make the case that the revival in classicism - especially in making fully formed classical temples for Reform congregations - was part of the broad branding process of Reform Judaism in the period from about 1900 until World War I. After the war, Reform tends to move to new styles, while through the 1920s Conservative and Orthodox congregations more commonly employ classicism in their own way. If any part of Beth Tefilah is from 1909 I'll have to reconsider what is going on. Still, the situation is not unknown. On the Lower East in New York the tiny Stanton Street Shul, built in 1913, also employs classicism on its facade, though little else in the building suggests not the glories of the ancient world of Greece and Rome - but only Galicia, the land of Yiddishkeit.

Troy, New York. Congregation Beth Tephilah. West Facade, Doric Portico . Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (November, 2010)



New York, NY. Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshe Brzezan (Stanton Street Shul). This small shul on the Lower East, built in 1913, also applied classical elements, to an otherwise very unclassical building. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2005

There is another story that needs to be told here, too. Who fought to save this building when everything around it was torn down (in the 1970s?). How has a congregation managed to maintain it since then. Is really used, and how often? What is the future for Beth Tefilah? I can't wait to get inside this shul on my next visit to Troy...and lean more of this history of this congregation and building.

Troy, New York. Congregation Beth Tephilah. South and east sides. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (November, 2010)

4 comments:

Mott said...

Terrific images, thank you. Just one thought. The revival in classicism was part of the broad branding process of Reform Judaism in the period from about 1900 until World War I. Yes sir. In fact in Germany, the birth place of Reform architecture, it started even earlier. I also like the word branding.

Ruth said...

You know, it reminds me a little of the big Plecnik Church of the Sacred Heart in Prague -- built 1928-1932

kerryp said...

I note that page 181 of the book "The city of Troy and its Vicinity", published in 1886 by Arthur James Weise (available for download in its entirety on Google books) mentions the Jewish congregation of "Shaare Tephilla", founded in Troy in 1873. The book states:

"Shaare Tephilla, (Gates of Prayer) on the third floor of the building on the northeast corner of River and Congress Streets. Polish and Russian people compose the congregation organized in 1873. The first place in which it worshipped was in a building on the east side of Fourth Street, between Liberty and Washington streets. Present reader: the Rev. Isaac Berkowitz."

Perhaps this answers the question regarding the mention of the date of 1873 on the River Street building.

Page 253 of the book "Troy's one hundred years, 1789-1889" (also available for download in its entirety on Google books) has an entry for Shaare Tephilla, as follows:

"The Jewish synagogue, Shaare Tephilla, on the north side of Division Street, between River and First Streets, was erected in 1887, the cornerstone having been laid on October 9th, that year. The first members of the congregation worshiped, in 1873, in a building on the east side of Fourth Street, between Liberty and Washington Streets."

I hope this helps.

PS: I loved your books and really enjoy your blog. Thank you.

Toff said...

The 1902 Troy Directory puts Congregation Chai Adam at 84 River.