Thursday, March 25, 2021

USA: Fine Modernism at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron, relief sculpture facing River Road, Herbert Ferber, sculptor 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.  

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzman, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018. 

USA: Fine Modernism at Percival Goodman's Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota 

by Samuel D. Gruber   

I have written about innovative and influential synagogue architect Percival Goodman many times before. Because he was so prolific, however, many of his notable synagogues go unnoticed. One of these is the Temple of Aaron in Saint Paul, Minnesota, built for a Conservative Congregation and completed in 1956 and still beautifully maintained by the congregation today. Rabbi Bernard S. Raskas (1924-2010) and his wife Leah who had a Fine Arts degree, engaged closely with Goodman on the design and construction of Temple of Aaron. Rabbi Raskas was an active and popular leader in the Twin Cities for many decades and was intimately associated with the synagogue throughout his long life.

Raskas had an optimistic belief in a new American Judaism expressed in part through art and design. He described some of the process in an interview in 2005 (at the 40 minute mark). Significantly he says that Goodman didn't want windows - said synagogues did not have windows - and Raskan countered with non-European examples. Raskas also wanted to have a Jewish Minnesotan design the windows, since "he [Goodman] had these big New Yorkers." Like many of his American-born post World War II colleagues who engaged prominent architects in the 1950s (i.e Mortimer Cohen and Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Bernstein and Pietro Belluschi), Raskas played a double role. He helped introduce modernism to a broader Jewish community, and helped to educate modern architects about religious and Jewish history and idealism.

The Temple of Aaron has all the hallmarks of Goodman's confident style of the 1950s and early 1960s. Though modest in size and materials it is distinctive in look. The shapes are sharply angled, but not aggressive. The brick and wood are used proudly with steady competence and without ostentation; together with a series of tall stained-glass windows they mold a sanctuary space that soars but remains remarkably warm and intimate. Though I did not have the opportunity to attend services in the sanctuary and experience it within the community and purpose for which it was designed, I was still drawn to the space and felt comfortable within it.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

 

Goodman engaged a talented team of modern artists to add sculpture and glass to the design. There is an abstract, but vaguely symbolic, sculpture on the exterior by Herbert Ferber, who also worked with Goodman on the synagogue in Millburn, New Jersey and elsewhere. Ibram Lassaw, who worked with Goodman on many projects including Temple Beth El in Springfield, Massachusetts; and the Fairmount Temple in Cleveland; added a distinctive menorah as wall sculpture in the chapel and the Ner Tamid in the sanctuary and other works. These two artists helped set a mid-century trend for exterior metal relief sculpture on synagogues, and also with a few others (Seymour Lipton, Richard Filipowsky, etc.) transformed our ideas about the proper forms for synagogue ritual art.

Similarly abstract stained glass windows by local artist William Saltzman are inside and the parochet covering the ark was designed by Helen Frankenthaler. Goodman rarely engaged women artists for his synagogue decoration, but here in  traditional woman's role of textile artist Frankenthaler contributed a vibrant, almost explosive design, that implies a burning bush. "The bush was not consumed" is a motto of the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Rabbi Raskan was ordained) but also inevitably refers to the Holocaust which was, indeed, the title of a painting of the same year (1955).

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Ark. Percival Goodman, architect. Menorah by Herbert Ferber; Parochet design by Helen Frankenthaler, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

As with many of Goodman's buildings of this period which recognize the car culture of suburbia, there are architectural transitions at both front and back from parking lot asphalt to the building entrance and its main mass. Goodman, who with his brother Paul, was known for his urban and community vision and planning ideas, did not champion suburban synagogues. Still, he designed a lot of them and helped create the lasting idea of an expressive and functional suburban religious place. Goodman designed the projects the were required in the time he lived. 

The Temple of Aaron stands in a transitional space. It is urban by the standards of the Midwest, but occupies a large lot on the edge of low-scale residential neighborhood and faces plenty of green space and the Mississippi River. Its setting, in fact, recalls many of the new American synagogues of the 1920s which, built away from crowded immigrant neighborhoods, often face city parks. If Raskas and Goodman might have known, too, that in 19th-century Europe, many impressive new synagogues, such as the Synagogue at Stora Nygatan in Gothenburg,Sweden (1855), also faced waterways. It is probably too much to find a link with Minnesota's Scandinavian past here, but it is a convenient comparison.

In the front of Temple of Aaron a covered walkway is perpendicular to the main mass, and leads to the entrance. In the rear - used as much as the front most days - a second portico is aligned against one the angled walls. The low flat-roofed space offers shelter from the rain and snow while allowing the eye and body to adjust as the building scales up. Many of Goodman's synagogues of this time push visitors/worshipers through a series of low places - the places of everyday life - until they are squeezed through the doors toward the sanctuary. Only there does the pressure ease, and the worshipers can breath deep, though space is breathtaking in its unobstructed freedom.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzman, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

A high point of the synagogue are the large abstract stained glass windows by local artist William Saltzman (1916-2006) that line both sides of the sanctuary. These sides bend out from the central space so that each window is seen at an angle from all the others. This architectural shape enlivens the windows which have shapes and movement in their designs, but are further animated through the impression of movement of the walls. The windows seem very much a part of the walls since the palette is largely brown and yellow, and this plays against the similar shades of the brick walls and the laminated wood arches the support the vault and space the space. 

The window patterns are each set within tall windows, framed by narrow panes of clear glass, so Salzman's swirling patters are separated from the adjoining walls and appear framed and suspended by light.

Avram Kampf, who probably spoke to the artist, included a description and detailed interpretation of the windows in his important book Contemporary Synagogue Art, pp. 239-240.

"In bold rhythms, Saltzman designed ten stained glass windows conveying experiences both universal and pertaining specifically to the life of the congregant. The overall theme is "The life cycle of a Jew." The windows, in their abstract design, suggest: birth, the first steps, Hebrew education, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, marriage, Parenthood, community responsibility, old age, and immortality. The relationship to one another is logical and together they create an aesthetically pleasing effect. In a number of cases of Talmudic idiom has been employed by the artist as an idea for the design. For example, the Talmud relates that at every birth a shout echoes through the entire cosmos. The mystery of creation is renewed again and again. The artist has transformed this idea into a design based on the diagrams of a splitting atom, but endowed with warmth and color in setting of human hope in prayer. The abstract motif is easily understood by the beholder. Yet although it is impossible to recognize, in the finished work, the original tamudic source, the viewer must reconstruct and reorganize some of the details in order to comprehend the meaning because the artist has simplified and condensed his theme.

"Train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22: 6). The unsteady steps of a little child who falls down and gets up again are conveyed in the zigzagging white path which weaves through the red and yellow composition. In the window representing education, the Hebrew letters are fully integrated into the design without being distorted. In the bar and bat mitzvah section, elements of the talit and the t'filin have been selected to create a pattern of interlacing bands that convey the idea of initiation into religious rights. The basic experiences of man birth, marriage, Parenthood and death are interspersed with windows dealing with those institutions of the congregation which assure its survival bar mitzvah, Hebrew education, and social responsibility. The accent throughout is on the relationship of the individual to the community. The designs consist predominantly of linear bands which suggests the ties individuals have to one another or to large social bodies. The individual is represented as a nucleus or a center of a larger field from which forces emanating upon which forces impinge. Bands, ever widening circles, and ever diminishing lines of force are narrowly condensed where the impact is heavy and disperse where it is slight. The concept underlying the theme and designs themselves reflect both the age of psychology and the age of the atom. Such concepts as belonging, and relatedness, lines of force, and nuclear energy have found their graphic expression in the design of the windows. These represent a work of art which incorporates significant aspects of the synagogue today and really as we experience it. They reflect the quest for community which the religious institution, with its rights, customs, history and tradition, promises its members.”

Salzman was a leading Minnesota artist in the mid-20th century. He was painter, sculptor, muralist, and designer working in many materials. He began entering work into Minnesota State Fair exhibitions in 1936, when he was just twenty, and then during WWII, was a camouflage advisor for the US Government. From 1948 to 1964 he was the Director of the Rochester (Minnesota) Art Center. Saltzman produced art for many Minnesota architectural settings besides the Temple of Aaron, including St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mount Zion Temple, Vinje Lutheran Church (Willmar), United Hospital, Mayo Clinic, and the University of Minnesota.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzman, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzman, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

The dedication publication of Temple of Aaron featured Stained glass windows illustrations and descriptions of the windows (and the other art in the complex).

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzmann, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect; William Saltzmann, stained glass, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Here are other views of the synagogue.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Ark. Percival Goodman, architect. Parochet design by Helen Frankenthaler, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. ntrance doors to sanctuary and social hall. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Sanctuary, view from bimah. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Daily chapel. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Daily chapel. Wall menorah sculpture by Ibram Lassaw, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Social Hall. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Social Hall ceiling. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Saint Paul, Minnesota. Temple of Aaron. Social Hall laminated wood supporting arch. Percival Goodman, architect, 1956. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.



Sunday, January 3, 2021

Happy Birthday Jack Levine

Jack Levine, Jewish Cantors in the Synagogue, 1930. Ars Judaica, 3:79




    

https://cdn1.nyt.com/images/2010/11/09/arts/design/20101109-levine-ss-slide-MXB4/20101109-levine-ss-slide-MXB4-jumbo.jpg
Jack Levine. The Feast of Pure Reason, 1937.
 

Jack Levine. Adam and Eve (Eve Offers Apple), ca. 1981. Oil on canvas, 48x42in, Jewish Artists & the Bible, p31


Happy Birthday Jack Levine (1915-2010)!

Today is the birthday of the American-Jewish artist Jack Levine  (January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010), a Social Realist painter and print maker known for his satires on modern life and political corruption, and for his sensual and sometimes comic biblical narratives. Levine made works on Jewish themes all of his life. His Cantors in the Synagogue is a fine drawing of 1930 when he was only 15 years old. In the 1930s he began his Street Scene paintings which aimed to capture the rough mix of Boston's immigrant life in city neighborhoods.

Jack Levine, Street Scene no. 1, 1938. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Born to Lithuanian Jewish parents, Levine grew up in the South End of Boston and attended Harvard University (1929-33) where his artistic abilities were recognize. In 1932 his drawings were included in exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum, and in 1935 twenty drawings were added to the museum's collection.

Later in life, he painted scores of canvases of biblical scenes, including many variations on the Adam and Eve story and also the Planning of Solomon's Temple.

For the present age of income inequality and continuing systemic racism and  overt police violence against Black Americans, we should remember Levine for his scathing portrayals of plutocrats and their political and military cronies, as well as his strong series of paintings in response to the police violence against civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. He continued to include politics and social critique overtly and by association in his works through most of his career. 

Jack Levine, Birmingham ‘63, 1963

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Jack Levine, The Arrest, 1983.

The Hunter Museum of American Art. Read more about The Arrest here.

His 1937 painting  “The Feast of Pure Reason,” that shows a police officer, a capitalist and a politician as cronies at a table, with bloated faces "oozing malice,"remains just as much an indictment of today's power structure as it was more than 80 years ago.

In his New York Times obituary he is quoted as saying “It is my privilege as an artist to put these gentlemen on trial, to give them every ingratiating characteristic they might normally have, and then present them, smiles, benevolence and all, leaving it up to the spectator to judge the merits of the case,”Read his full 2010 New York Times obituary here.

Levine was in the Army from 1942 to 1945 after which he painted painted Welcome Home, mocking military power. Later when the work was shown in Moscow he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Jack Levine, Welcome Home, 1946

Jack Levine, The Reluctant Ploughshare, 1946. The Brooklyn Museum.
  

Together with his Boston-born Harvard classmate Hyman Bloom, Levine helped create an alternative American Jewish modernism to the the New York School. He and Bloom preferred expressionism over abstraction, and remained true to narrative and social engagement. In this they were much more influenced by American Social Realists and inter-war German expressionists and satirists than their New York contemporaries who were more inspired by the formal trends of France. Levine hated abstraction. He is quoted as saying (I don't know the source): "I’m not a child of Cézanne, I’m a child of Daumier. I have a right to be. It’s a free country."

I suspect that over time, Levine's work - especially that of his early decades - will continue to grow in renown and influence. 

A documentary film about Levine titled Feast of Pure Reason was made in 1989. He died at his home in Manhattan, New York on November 8, 2010 at the age of 95. It can be rented here: http://vimeo.com/42791172

 

Read more about Jack Levine in Samantha Baskind's "Midrash and the Jewish American Experience in Jack Levine's Planning Solomon's Temple," in Ars Judiaca (2007), available here.

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Getting Ready for Its Close-Up: Former Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas, to be Restored

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Texas A & M Center for Heritage Conservation.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Interior in 1950s. Photo courtesy of Brazos Heritage Society.

Getting Ready for Its Close-Up: Former Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas, to be Restored

By Samuel D. Gruber

When the cornerstone of Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas was laid in 1913, the local newspaper wrote:

the synagogue is a neat little brick structure, modern in design, and when completed will be a monument to the pluck, energy and enterprise of those Jewish citizens who now reside in Bryan, and who are responsible and have the credit for its erection.” (The Eagle, Feb 17, 1913).   

The once “neat” but now deteriorated building has not been used for Jewish worship for more than half century, but now it getting a second lease on life.

In 2020, the restoration of Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas and its re-purposing as a public community space continues to move forward as part of multi-year effort by local preservationists and the City of Bryan. In 2017 the nascent restoration project received a $40,000 matching grant from the Texas Historical Commission, which enabled a start to the project. With additional support from a city Downtown improvement grant, the building was stabilized. Faculty and students from the Center for Heritage Conservation at the College of Architecture of nearby Texas A &M documented the preservation needs of the structure and prepared a full preservation plan and detailed digital model illustrating the building’s deterioration in 2018. The building has previously been documented by Texas A&M architecture students who helped list the structure on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and the Texas A & M team also created measured drawings for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

The city of Bryan now owns and cares for the Temple Freda property, but the plan is for an existing or new nonprofit organization to take on ownership and oversee the temple’s long-term management.

The small but nimble Brazos Heritage Society, a volunteer organization education and advocacy organization, has partnered with the city to raise awareness and help raise funds, and efforts are underway to fund Phase II. 

On October 27, the Brazos Heritage Society plans to participate in Brazos Valley Gives, a community-wide fundraising campaign for local non-profits. The goal is to raise at least $150,000 for the Temple Freda project.

To donate to the project go to https://www.brazosheritage.org/temple-freda-restoration-phase-i-b or you can participate in the Brazos Valley Gives campaign at https://www.brazosvalleygives.org/ on October 27. All donations received during Brazos Valley Gives are earmarked for Temple Freda.


Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Exterior elevation by
Texas A & M courtesy HABS.

Back in a blogpost of 2009, I mentioned Temple Freda Reform Congregation of Bryant, Texas, as a rare Jewish synagogue named after a woman. The Temple was named at its dedication for Mrs. Ethel Freda Kaczer, the recently deceased wife of the congregation's president.

I'm still interested in the building – now for several other reasons. For the last few years as part of a project with the College of Charleston, I’ve been researching synagogues and Jewish architects in the South. The modest but attractive Temple Freda building of 1912-13 is important as one of the few surviving Classical-style synagogues in Texas from that period between 1900 and 1930 when the Classical impulse was so widespread in the South. Temple Freda is a modest – but fine – example.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Larry D. Moore 2012 (Wikipedia).
    

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Texas A & M Center for Heritage Conservation.

The International Survey of Jewish Monuments has also been busy inventorying American synagogue stained glass. Typical of period and style, Temple Freda has a fine set of stained-glass windows, too.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Stained-glass window. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

Importantly, I recently (re)learned that the building is almost certainly an early design by the Austrian-born Jewish architect Joseph Finger, who arrived in Houston in 1908 and was soon junior partner in the firm of Green & Finger (with Lewis Sterling Green), which, according to The Tradesman received the contract Temple in 1912.

Bryan TX. Temple Freda congregation has let the contract to Walter Cook of Houston for the erection of a brick synagogue. The plans for the building were prepared by Green and Finger, architects of Houston." (The Tradesman, October 24, 1912).

As the Jewish junior partner Finger was probably in charge. I have not yet found out much about architect Lewis Green. It is possible that he was Jewish, too, and thus gave the newly arrived Austrian immigrant his first professional position. Finger soon moved on to form his own firm which over many decades had great success.

He would go on to be a leading architect in interwar Houston, and nationally one of the most successful Jewish architects of the first half of the 20th century.  In synagogue architecture, he is best known for his 1926 Temple Beth Israel in Houston (now Heinen Theater of Houston Community College). This structure, built for Finger’s own congregation, was designed in a robust classical style. In 1935, Finger also designed the Temple of Rest Mausoleum for Beth Israel (where he himself is interred) in an Art Deco style. It is a fascinating to add Temple Freda to this progression through stages of “Jewish” classicism as a study of Finger’s development, but also as lens on American Jewish tastes and aspirations of the time.

Houston, Texas. Temple Israel. Joseph Finger, architect. Pencil Points, February 1933

Temple Freda is a fine example of a small classical style Reform Temple in the American South. As I have previously, the classical style became a new architectural “brand” for the Reform Movement after around 1900. More ornate versions built before World War I can be found across the south, but the style persisted and in 1917 we find, for example, the near-contemporary B’nai Israel synagogue in Spartanburg, South Carolina, similar to Temple Freda in many ways.  In Texas, there were several examples of Classical-style synagogues built in this period. Most, such as Houston’s Temple Beth Israel (1908), have been demolished and replaced by newer buildings. The former B’nai Zion in El Paso, built in 1912 in a style that mixed Greek and Gothic, has been used as church since 1927 and is well maintained.

Houston, Texas. Temple Beth Israel (1908). Photo courtesy William Rosenthall Collection, College of Charleston Special Collection.
El Paso, Texas. Former B’nai Zion (1912). Photo: Rogelio Rivero Cagigas / Wikipedia

History

Jews probably settled in Bryan in the 1860's. As in most contemporary communities, they met in member’s homes for worship. In 1912, land was sold by local businessman J.W. English, a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, for the token sum of $10 to the Jewish community with the stipulation that the land be used exclusively for “religious or benevolent purposes.”

The cornerstone-laying ceremony followed the masonic ritual which was standard practice in the South and much of the country. Construction moved quickly, and the dedication took place on May 20, 1913 with an assembly of rabbis and Texas dignitaries. The Eagle wrote that the Temple:

has been completed, standing forth in its beauty and symmetry, and was on last night dedicated, in a beautiful, sacred and solemn service, to the worship of the true and living God. The house was filled to overflowing by the members of the congregation, their guests from other cities, and their friends in Bryan, either to witness or take part in the dedication service, typifying in their coming together the spirit of brotherly love and Christian fellowship existing in Brian between the different denominations, nationalities and religious beliefs.”

Rabbi Henry Barnstein of Temple Beth El in Houston and Rabbi Henry Cohen of Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston presided. The newspaper gave a full account and summarized and quoted much of Rabbi Cohen’s address.

Read more about the Jewish history of Bryan here.

Much of the Temple’s construction material was also donated by local citizens. The modest rectangular building was completed within a year. Its most distinctive feature is the Greek aedicula-type entrance way, with a pressed metal entablature and pediment surmounting two wooden Corinthian columns with plaster capitals. A plaque with the name “Temple Freda” is inserted in the wall beneath the portico, above the double entrance doors. The Parker Street facade has nicely detailed tan brick walls beneath a pressed metal classical entablature. The side and rear walls are red brick.

The brick walls, metal decorative elements, and wooden columns are all in need of repair.

Inside the arrangement was austere – a small vestibule flanked by restrooms opens to a simple rectangular hall, where the floor gently slopes to the bimah at the far end opposite the entrance. But the entire space was embellished with a series of simple but elegant stained-glass windows which prided a cool and calming light for the space. Many of these are memorial windows donated by congregants. There is a pressed metal ceiling, and a small meeting room is located at the back.  Few flanked a central aisle.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Interior. Photo: Timothy Hurst / The Eagle.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Exterior elevation by
Texas A & M courtesy HABS.






Despite the joyous dedication in 1913, the congregation struggled to survive, especially after the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Despite a brief boom during World War II, decline continued until the move to College Station. As in many small towns, there was never a full-time rabbi.

That congregation has moved on. The building stopped serving as a regular Jewish house of worship back in the 1950s. Many of the congregants, and certainly almost all newly arriving Jews in the area, were affiliated with Texas A & M University; they began to attend a new Hillel synagogue on campus at nearby College Station. In 1968 Congregation Beth Shalom, was formed to serve the Jewish community of the Brazos Valley. Beth Shalom, which since 1990 is housed in a modest and attractive mid-century brick former church building, includes many Temple Freda members and maintains Temple Freda's Cemetery.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Beth Shalom, 101 North Coulter Drive. Photo: Google Streetscapes.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Beth Shalom, 101 North Coulter Drive. Photo: Courtesy of Larry Dangott and Congregation Beth Shalom via Julian Preisler.

After regular Jewish use of Temple Freda ended, it was maintained for the congregation by a Texas A & M physicist William Bassichis, and for many decades served as an available public space often used by small congregations of various faiths. But without regular maintenance and some major repairs, the structure decayed. In 2013, amidst a boom in Downtown redevelopment, the citizens’ group “Friends of Temple Freda” was formed to save the building. Bassichis ceded management to the City of Bryan during the restoration process which after a period of organization, began in earnest in 2017.

For now, the stained-glass windows (some of which had already been damaged due to neglect or vandalism) and original furnishings have been removed for safe keeping while the building is stabilized and restoration work proceeds to repair the roof, reinforce the brick walls, and secure the overall exterior water handling  envelop.  Mechanical systems will also be upgraded as part of the restoration.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

When restored, the building follow the path of many other rescued religious and public buildings around the country and serve as a venue for weddings, receptions, educational events, concerts, and more. In this, they will follow the example of "Save the Temple Committee" in Corsicana, which saved the synagogue there for community use back in 1987. Though no one could have predicted it at the time, that wonderful Moorish style building, which was re-furbished as secular space, now sometimes serves again as a place of Jewish worship, too.

Read more here: https://www.brazosheritage.org/temple-freda-history