Two weeks ago I gave a lecture about New York synagogues, with special attention given to the large numbers of historic structures that have been named local protected sites and/or added to the National Register of Historic Places. At the time I didn't know of the latest synagogue addition to the National Register; the 1929 Temple B'nai Israel at 127 South Barry Street in Olean, a small city in the southwestern part of the state. The National Register nomination was prepared by Katie Eggers Comeau of Bero Architecture PLLC in Rochester.
In the past twenty years the number of landmarked synagogues in New York State has grown into the hundreds. Originally, many structures were designated because they stood within the borders of historic districts - of which there are so many in New York City. Over the years, however, as interest in historic religious structures has grown, more and more synagogues have been listed individually. In some instances this work has been spurred by organized regional surveys (as in Sullivan County). Outside of New York City many congregations, such a my own Temple Concord in Syracuse, have taken the lead in recognizing the history of their congregations and buildings and have prepared or sponsored the preparation of National Register nominations. There is also the recognition that NR designation can help in fund-raising for the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic structures through the Sacred Sites Program of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and other agencies.
Temple B’Nai Israel, designed for the Olean Hebrew Congregation by local architect J. Milton Hurd (1895-1982) was dedicated on September 29, 1929, shortly before the much larger by stylistically related Temple Emanuel in Manhattan. Plans for the synagogue had been discussed for more than a decade, and Hurd was hired in 1927. Hurd was a graduate of Cornell in 1916, and seems to have worked exclusively in the region of Olean. Biographical information is provided in the NR nomination, but little is know of his other work. For the synagogue design he was certainly indebted to recent synagogues erected in New York City, many of which had been published in architecture magazines.
Olean's B'nai Israel's facade is dominated by a massive arch with common version of a Jewish 'rose' window. The NR nomination rightly compares it to New York City's B’Nai Jeshurun in Manhattan (Henry Herts & Walter Schneider, 1917-18) and Temple Beth-El in Brooklyn (Shampan & Shampan, 1920), to which we can add the demolished Mount Nebo Synagogue (formerly on 79th Street in Manhattan). Walter Schneider also designed Mount Nebo and thus probably deserves much of the credit for the popularity of this particular type of Byzantine-inspired synagogue facade type. The building also should be compared to the much larger complementary Temple Emanuel in Manhattan (Clarence Stein, Robert D. Kohn, and Charles Butler, archs., 1927-1930). Variations of the Byzantine style were favored for synagogue design throughout the United States in the period between word War I and the Great Depression.
Click here to read the full National Register file on Temple B'Nai Israel