Tuesday, July 11, 2017

USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Cong. Shaaray Tefila

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila
by Samuel D. Gruber

The synagogues of architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) are increasingly well known.  I have published about Brunner, as have colleagues Steven Fine and David Kaufman. But despite a few articles and passing mentions in various works, there is still much to be discovered and presented about Brunner's influential residential, institutional, synagogue, and urban design work (I've been working off and on toward that book for several years now).

I'm inspired to come back now to one significant, though little known, Brunner project because I recently walked by it while visiting David Kaufman. So of course the building - the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila, built in 1896, and now the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - came up in conversations about New York synagogues and Jewish history.

Earliest image of former Shaaray Tefila from New York Times (April 14, 1894, p. 8)
Brunner designed at least seven independent synagogues as well as several synagogues included as parts of larger complexes, especially hospitals. The early synagogues are each quite distinct, as Brunner incorporated elements from various sources, and was still grappling with his own idea of what a synagogue is and how a synagogue building should appear. In the mid-1890s one can see Brunner moving away from the more exotic Romanesque, Venetian and Moorish influences and developing a more contemporary style rooted in Georgian or Colonial architecture, and then, with the success of congregation Shearith Israel, combining this with fully classical exteriors.  By the late 1890s he settled on his preferred form and decorative palette – which  he stayed with for a quarter century. This was linked to an intellectual foundation for his synagogue designs, adapting ancient architecture to contemporary needs as expressed in his writings on synagogue architecture.

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: sideways.nyc
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: sideways.nyc
New York, NY.  Cong. Shearith Israel, Central Park West. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896-97. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Because they were highly visible, all of Brunner’s New York synagogues were quite influential, though his own rapid development in the 1890s made his earliest work at Beth El and Shaaray Tefila almost obsolete as a source for others within a few years of their erection. Still, both synagogues were copied in part, and at least two close copies of Shaaray Tefila were built by other architects in Manhattan.

Just two year’s after the dedication of Beth-El, Brunner (and his partner Tryon) were at work on a new synagogue project – the new home of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, designated for a site at West 82nd Street and Amsterdam avenues on the Upper West Side. The cornerstone was laid on October 5, 1893.  The rabbi of Beth-El, Rev. Dr. K. Kohler offered the dedicatory prayer. [see: “Synagogue Cornerstone Laid,” New York Times (Oct. 6, 1893), p. 9.].

Congregation Shaaray Tefila grew out of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. The congregation had previously worshiped at Broadway near Franklin Street, and then moved to Wooster Street, and then in 1866 they bought land on 44th street near Broadway and erected a new building designed by Henry Fernbach, that was dedicated May 4, 1869. Brunner probably grew up as a member of that congregation and would have been very familiar with the earlier building, and probably celebrated his Bar mitzvah there in the fall of 1870. The building influenced his design for Beth-El. Services for Brunner’s deceased uncle Samuel Brunner (1830-1872) took place there in 1872. Samuel was the brother of William Brunner, and he was married to Brunner’s mother’s sister Sophia (1846-1922). There were even closer family reasons for Brunner’s receiving the commission. The president of the Congregation was Solomon B. Solomon (1842-1930), the younger brother of Brunner’s mother Isabella. Arnold Brunner’s grandfather, Barnett Solomon (1806-1897), past president of the congregation, had the honor of tapping the cornerstone into place.

I have not consulted any records of the congregation, but some are preserved at the American Jewish Archives and I'll try to look at them when in Cincinnati in November. 
 
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Window dtl with Mo0rish elements. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
The design of the synagogue was described in the New York Times as being:
“designed in the Moresque manner, the Alhambra at Grenada (sic) having been taken as a model for the ornamentation and general treatment. The front will be partly of Indiana limestone and partly of brick and terracotta, of the same color. The main entrance will be arcaded, and over this will be an elaborate group of arched windows, separated by slender columns with carved capitals. The vestibule will be reached by a double flight of steps, with stone balustrades. The auditorium will be 60 by 70 feet and 50 feet in height, and will seat 650 people. The ark will be placed in an arched recess, against a background of highly-decorated arcaded windows, filled with stained glass. By special arrangement of lighting, the same effect will be obtained at night as by day.”
The form of the building façade can also be described as Venetian, for Brunner adapted the traditional Venetian palace façade for the synagogue’s public face. There were other Venetian buildings in the city at the time and the influence of John Ruskin in America was still strong. Many of New York’s Venetian buildings however, such as the Academy of Design (1862) and McKim Mead and Whites’ Herald Building (18??), use the Doge’s Palace as a model. As Rachel Wischnitzer pointed out many years ago, Brunner also used Venetian elements in Temple Beth El.

Within a decade Brunner would fully eschew the Moorish style for synagogue. In his 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia article he wrote:

The general results of the Moorish movement have been unfortunate; the greatest delicacy of feeling for both form and color is needed to preserve the beauty of Moorish architecture, and curiously shaped domes and towers and misapplied horseshoe arches, turrets, and pinnacles have often resulted, presenting in many cases a grotesque appearance rather than the dignity and simplicity that should have been attained.
The unpleasant results may be seen in St. Petersburg, London, Philadelphia, and in many parts of Germany. Emphasizing the towers that contain the stairs to the galleries, which are invariably on either side of the main entrance, is a common device, and the Temple Emanu-El in New York is so treated. In this case the minarets are graceful and skilfully placed; but the usual result is a loss of dignity; a single central motive is more pleasing. 
The most successful buildings in all great architectural periods are simple in design; whether large or small, richly decorated or not, simplicity is their main characteristic, and the desire to produce the picturesque and unusual is fatal to the dignity which should characterize the synagogue.
But in the early 1890s Brunner was still content to use Moorish forms - even though the building's side walls, visible only from within, employed large Georgian tri-partite window arrangements, with the center window much wider and taller than the flanking one, in the manner of Palladian  windows.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
New York, NY. former Temple Beth El. Brunner & Tryon, archs, 1891.
Like the Venetian palazzo, the synagogue is not free-standing, and is mostly viewed obliquely, from one end or the other of the relatively narrow West 82nd Street. Unlike Beth El, with its great dome facing Central Park, there is no distant view of Shaaray Tefila. Like Venetian palaces (and many New York row houses) Brunner placed the more important spaces high up. The main entrance is reached be ascending stairs which run parallel to the street and the façade, and terminate on a wide stoop from which one can survey the street the height, or turn and enter through a colonnade of four short columns carrying slightly pointed arches. Both stairs and stoop are lined with a fine balustrade. This type of portico, which is copied above, but with taller windows, is also a staple of Venetian palace facades. 

New York, NY. Kehillah Jeshurun,  East 85th Street. George Pelham, arch 1902. Photo: Wikipedia (2008).
New York, NY. Congregation Sons of Kalwarie  Pike Street. Alfred E. Badt arch, 1904. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
The design of Sharray Tefila was subsequently copied almost in its entirety for New York’s Kehillah Jeshurun on East 85th Street in 1902 by George Pelham (this synagogue was severely damaged by fire in 2011). The more overt Moorish or Venetian arcades have had their pointed arches transformed with sober round-arched opening. But otherwise the Pelham’s façade copies Brunner’s in all its essentials. That an Orthodox congregation should sanction the copying of the design of a Reform synagogue is remarkable, and perhaps is a testimony to the effectiveness of Brunner’s solution for a synagogue forced to build on a side street. The design was copied yet again by Congregation Sons of Kalwarie for their building on Pike Street on the Lower East Side.

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