Monday, December 4, 2017

USA: Cincinnati's (former) Isaac M. Wise Center, a Muscular 1920s Building with Delicate Detail

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

USA: Cincinnati's (former) Isaac M. Wise Center, a Muscular 1920s Building with Delicate Detail
by Samuel D. Gruber

The former Isaac M. Wise Center on Reading Road in Cincinnati, Ohio, was built by Congregation K. K. Bene Yeshurun (Isaac M. Wise Temple) in the 1920s to supplement use of the historic Plum Street Temple (built 1866) downtown. It provided classrooms, offices and a library as well as a large auditorium that served as a second sanctuary for worship services. This was one of the first known instances (to me) of the creation of the "satellite synagogue and school" that could serve the needs of a congregation which had moved to a new neighborhood but was for various reasons not ready or willing to give up its much-loved older home. Unlike other instances of such arrangements (Tifereth Israel, Cleveland; B'nai Jehudah, Kansas City) where eventually the older facility was sold, in Cincinnati the Plum Street Temple was retained but the 1920s Wise Center was sold in 1972 when the congregation moved further from the city center.


A. Lincoln Fechheimer (1876-1954) was the architect of the new Wise Center, with his partner Benjamin Ihorst. I recently wrote about Fechheimer and his earlier work designing Hebrew Union College. For the Isaac Wise Center, he rejected the ornate Moorish style of the Plum Street Temple. By the 1920s, this was a style mostly used by Orthodox congregations and institutions (Yeshiva University, for example). He also rejected the Gothic style that he used at HUC, which might have made some sense, but that while that style which was deemed appropriate for college architecture it had rarely been  used for American synagogues since before the Civil War.
 
Cincinnati, Ohio. Plum Street Temple, 1866. Compare the lavish interior with the simpler auditorium of the 1920s Isaac Wise Center. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church). Interior view toward Ark wall. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
There were three architecture styles dominant for American Reform congregations. These included the Classical, which has been popular since the turn of the century and had helped re-brand the movement as a civic-minded, almost nativist denomination in the face of rising tensions over massive immigration to Europe. Predictably, this style was chosen for the Reform Congregation K. K. Bene Israel, a massive Roman temple style building erected nearby on Reading Road in 1910. [On the popularity of the style see my article
Arnold W. Brunner and the New Classical Synagogue in America.]

In the post-World War I period, while the Reform movement searched for new architectural styles, the growing Conservative Movement favored Classicism, as is evident in the still-extant building of  congregation Adath Israel, built in 1926 at 3556 Reading Road, and sold in the late 1960s to the Southern Baptist Church. Adath Israel, designed by Jewish architect Oscar Schwartz, is a large synagogue closely resembles that of K. K. Bene Israel. Conservative congregations built Classical style synagogues and Jewish center across the country.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Congregation K. K. Bene Israel, Rudolph Tietig, arch., 1910. Photo: postcard courtesy of the William A, Rosenthal Collection, College of Charleston.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Former Adath Israel (now Southern Baptist Church), 3556 Reading Road, Oscar Schwartz, architect (?),1926.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Demand for the Classical style by Reform congregations waned after World War I. But the K. K. Bene Yeshurun builders of the new Isaac M. Wise Center probably would have thought twice in any case, since Bene Israel, from which they had broken off back in 1840, remained their chief congregational rival. No doubt the decision to build the new center - which has a large sanctuary - was to better to compete with Bene Israel in the still-expanding Jewish neighborhood of Avondale. And then there was the reputation of K. K. Bene Yeshurun to maintain. They had been innovative their introduction of Moorish architecture and decoration at the Plum Street Synagogue in 1866 (building) and 1874 (painting), that it would have been important for them to make a strong architectural statement in their new building, too.
 

Another developing styles in the 1920s were variants of Byzantine and Romanesque architecture, which while still historicist, was relatively new for synagogue and when used by a creative architect allowed all sorts of innovations. Fechheimer certainly would have known Chicago's recent Temple Isaiah by Jewish architect Alfred Alschuler, dedicated in 1924.

Chicago, Illinois. Temple Isaiah K.A.M. Alfred Alschuler, architect, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber.
A third style that was emerging just at the end of the 1920s was a stripped down style with smooth walls adorned - if at all - with shallow relief sculpture. These clean walls  allowed a strong emphasis on bold often compact massing. This is what we now call Art Deco, or sometimes for more stream-lined examples, Art Moderne. In the mid-1920s the style was already being used for some types of civic buildings, and Fechheimer himself would masterfully employ the style at the (recently demolished) Wilson Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati in built a few years after the Isaac Wise Center. 

The Byzantine design of Temple Tifereth Israel in Cleveland by Charles Greco, built, 1922-24, moved toward an Art Deco aesthetic in its massing, but there were no full blown Art Deco synagogues to challenge Fechheimer when was designing the Wise Center around 1925-26. The masterpiece of the style, Temple Emanuel in Paterson, New Jersey, designed by F. W. Wentworth, would not be completed until 1929.

Cleveland, Ohio. The Temple (Tifereth Israel). Charles Greco, architect. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 1997.
 Paterson, NJ. Temple Emanuel. Photo: Vincent Giordano/ISJM 2006

So, the Isaac M. Wise Center is built in a neo-Medieval style but already with detail work that reflects Art Deco sensibilities. It is in part of the contract of the bold rough stonework of the building walls and crisp, almost delicate Deco-like details scattered over doors and windows, that makes this work so interesting and attractive.

The great entry arch, may respond to the large arch of the former Sh'erith Ahabeth Achim Synagogue at 3212 Reading Road (now New Friendship Baptist Church), designed by another favorite architect of the Jewish Community Rudoplh Teitig (1877-1958). But because it has a slightly pointed extrados, it is more likely a nod to the Moorish style of the Plum Street Temple.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Former Sh'erith Ahabeth Achim Synagogue, 3212 Reading Road, now New Friendship Baptist Church. Rudolph Teitig, architect, 1906. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 20177.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church). note the Tablets, Menorah and other other modest decoration.  A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
The attenuated colonettes flanking the doors which rise to support the spring of the arch are also exotic. They are each articulated in a different pattern, similar to what one finds in New York a few years later), But carved columns on facades were popular in the 19th-century, most evident in the exuberant designs of the facade of the Museum of Natural History in London, or a little closer to home at the great St. Boniface Church in Chicago built in 1902. The facade is also marked by the Tablets of the Law and a representation of the Temple Menorah within a roundel. The decoration on the rest of the building is limited and very simple. Most of these are geometrically inspired patterns above or below window and door sills and lintels, and under horizontal string courses. The primary decorative quality of the building's exterior is its bright and warmly colored stone.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church).  Rear, south side facade. Note sawtooth dentil decoration beneath horizontal band. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
The interior space of the Wise Center is spacious, unobstructed, and relatively subdued. Its simplicity much have been quite a shock - or a relief - to the congregation after the busy and bright Moorish patterns of the old Plum Street Temple. There is a single broad and low barrel vault the runs the entire length of the sanctuary. This is cut into on the side to allow large double windows under single round arches. In the late 1960s the sanctuary was remolded and the present-day windows designed and manufactured by stained glass artist Herman Verbinnen were installed. More on these windows in forthcoming post.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church). Interior view to entrance. The windows are from a 1960s renovation. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church). Vestibule. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church). The heating grates provide addtional decorative and symbols patterns. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect 1926-1927. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
An addition to Wise Center on North Crescent was dedicated on Sept. 11, 1955. This modest orange brick building is largely out of keeping with the style of the 1920s Center, but is in the style of the 1950s - a mix of casual modernism with traditional vernacular elements.

Cincinnati, Ohio. former Isaac M. Wise Center (now Zion First Pentecostal church), 1955 addition. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Thanks to Andrea Rapp, librarian of the Isaac M. Wise Temple for some information used in this post.





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