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ISJM's New Home: Temple Society of Concord, Syracuse

           

In 2007, ISJM moved to a new home on the premises of TempleSociety of Concord (TSOC) in Syracuse, New York.  ISJM and its files and library are now housed in former classroom space in the 1920s annex to the 1910-11 historic sanctuary.

TSOC is the last active synagogue in the 15th Ward, Syracuse's old Jewish neighborhood.   The imposing Classical Revival building, designed by local architect Alfred Taylor and renowned Jewish architect and planner Arnold W. Brunner, is located on the edge of SyracuseUniversity in downtown Syracuse.

In the spring of 2008, ISJM assisted the TSOC congregation in the preparation of nomination forms to place TempleSociety of Concord on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  The historic building was officially added to the National Register in April 2009.

The following text, researched and written by ISJM president Samuel D. Gruber with assistance from Anthony Opalka of SHPO is adapted from the NR nomination form:

TempleSociety of Concord

TempleSociety of Concord is an outstanding example of a classical revival synagogue of the early twentieth century. It is one of the outstanding religious buildings in Central New York and is among the most representative buildings of its type, in New York and nationwide. It is also important as one of the few completed synagogues buildings designed by renowned architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1935) that still retains its original form and function (only two others – Congregation Shearith Israel in New York and the small Frank Memorial Synagogue in Philadelphia also remain).

History

TempleSociety of Concord, one of the oldest Jewish religious congregations in the United States, has a history that is fairly typical of many American congregations in that it was founded in 1839 by German-speaking immigrants drawn to upstate New York by the new Erie Canal. The small group first met in a back room of a local store and like so many other American congregations, they soon moved to better quarters, first to the second floor of a member’s home on Mulberry Street, where by 1841 they hired their first rabbi (although he was not formally trained or ordained). The minyan (prayer group) incorporated and first took the name “Comrades of Peace” and later Keneseth Shalome, Hebrew for the TempleSociety of Concord. In 1851 the congregation built its own building at Harrison and Mulberry Streets for the substantial sum of $10,000.

The new building exacerbated conflict over identity and religious practice within the congregation, and led members in 1861 to adopt Reform Judaism, the growing movement led by Rabbi Isaac Wise of Cincinnati. In addition to certain formal changes in synagogue layout, the congregation allowed the inclusion of an organ, choir singing, family pews, and English translations of prayers. When the synagogue president required that men remove their hats in the synagogue—in direct opposition to traditional Jewish practice, a large faction split from TempleConcord and founded its own synagogue.

Despite the split, TempleConcord continued to grow and to expand its activities, especially in the area of religious and Hebrew education, as was urged at the Pittsburgh Convention of 1885. But in keeping with the general pro-assimilation teachings of Reform Judaism, this was always done within a distinctly American context. As Rabbi Adolph Guttman, who led the congregation for 36 years, stated “In our religion we are Jews, but in every other respect we are part and parcel of this great country, which we love with hear and mind. Its flag is our flag, it victories our victories, its defeats our defeats.”

Adolph Guttman came from Hohenems, Austria to serve as rabbi of the Concord Society in 1883, succeeding Rabbi Herman Birkenthal who served from 1875 until 1882. Dr. Guttman helped establish most of the lasting Jewish community institutions in Syracuse, organizing and training the first modern temple choir, and modernizing the religious school. He also negotiated the Temple’s joining the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In 1891, during the presidency of William Henocksburg, Dr. Guttman formed the Ladies Aid Society, which established the United Jewish Charities, later known as the Jewish Social Service Bureau (SOC, 16-17).  Guttman also promoted the idea of a Y.M.H.A. which became the Jewish Community Center.

The New Building

Gates Thalheimer was elected president of the congregation in 1897 and served as president for over thirty years. Thalheimer and Guttman accomplished some of their most significant work together, including the erection of the new Temple. On November 29, 1901, Thalheimer suggested to the congregation that a new site be procured for a temple religious school building. Dr. Guttman was responsible for convincing Thalheimer that the facilities of the old Temple on State and Harrison Streets were inadequate and that they too should be replaced. Jacob Stolz donated the first fifty dollars towards the project. More small donations were offered at the following meetings and the idea was debated frequently over the next few years. Thalheimer kept pushing for the project to move forward. In December 1904, Herman Leiter died and left a bequest of $16,500 to the Temple, at which time Thalheimer appointed Dr. Nathan Jacobsen chairman of a committee to begin serious consideration of a new temple site. 

On April 15, 1906, Henry Danziger moved that the congregation be empowered to purchase a site on the corner of Madison Street and University Avenue. Thalheimer supported him by insisting that the congregation had the necessary funding available, and stated that should there be a lack of funding, he would personally compensate. Though the members applauded both speakers, many were still hesitant about building. By October 26, 1906, fifteen thousand dollars had been subscribed by some of the interested members, but there was still hesitation. At this point Thalheimer ran out of patience, and he declined to stand for re-election. Despite the efforts of the other leaders, he couldn’t be persuaded to return to office until the congregation agreed to start the new building. On February 15, 1907, the members of the congregation finally approved the purchase of the site at Madison Street and University Avenue.  

The Temple lot was purchased for $11,400, and the project was begun on October 10, 1909.  Alfred E. Taylor of Syracuse and Arnold W. Brunner of New York City were engaged as architects.

Alfred Taylor, whose birth and death dates are presently unknown, was a native of Montclair, New Jersey, graduated from M.I.T., and was first associated with architectural firms in New York City.  He then moved to Syracuse where he established an office in 1902. From 1905 to 1907, he was in  partnership with Albert L. Brockway and from 1908 until 1924, Edwin W. Bonta was listed as his partner in the firm of Taylor and Bonta. (Syracuse Then and Now)

It is not known how Taylor was chosen. It may be that Brunner already knew him, as they were both graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or because Taylor had worked in New York City before moving to Syracuse and establishing his practice. Prior to the TempleSociety commission, Taylor had no experience in designing religious or civic buildings, therefore suggesting that the aesthetic decisions on the project were Brunner’s. This is attested to by the many details in the work that are consistent with Brunner’s other projects of the time.  

Brunner’s background was similar to that of many of the leading members of TempleSociety of Concord. He was the first successful American-born Jewish architect and was acquainted with most of the Jewish leadership in New York. It is likely the he was introduced to the TempleSociety of Concord through the prominent Jewish leader of the time, Syracuse native Louis Marshall (1856-1929).  Marshall was closely connected to Temple and remained a member all his life, even while he pursued his successful career in New York City, including the presidency of New York’s Temple Emanu-El which he assumed in 1916. Marshall was a founder of the American Jewish Committee and its president from 1912 to 1929, and achieved national prominence as a lawyer, civic leader and conservationist. In fact, he was one of the founders of the New York State College of Environmental Science and Forestry at SyracuseUniversity, and its main building, Marshall Hall, is named in his honor. Marshall Street, near the University, is also named for Louis Marshall.

Other prominent members of the TempleSociety of Concord, such as educator T. Aaron Levy were local leaders. Three past rabbis associated with the Temple were important in the Jewish Reform movement and the cause of social justice and civil rights.

Marshall and Brunner shared many activities and associations, such as the organization of a national Jewish historical exhibition in 1902, and their work for the Jewish Theological Seminary (Marshall as chair, and Brunner as architect). In 1910, the Marshall family donated their Syracuse home for the new Jewish Community Center.

On the morning of May 25, 1910, Gates Thalheimer broke the ground for the new building, and on September 18 of that year, the first cornerstone of the new temple was set. President Thalheimer used a gold trowel which had been presented to him by the Building Committee and many members of the congregation were gathered to participate in the services.

The building was dedicated on September 22, 1911 at what was a major ecumenical occasion in Syracuse, and was amply reported in the local press. Marshall was supposed to speak at the dedication of the Temple, but could not attend. Instead, he sent a poem he had written instead  (Marshall was a better lawyer than a poet, but the work was printed in 1917 in the The Standard Book of Jewish Verse by Joseph Friedlander and George Alexander Kohut).

On the following Friday evening, services were held for the first time in the new temple. Dr. Guttman delivered the dedicatory sermon and George K. Van Deusen, the organist, arranged a special musical program. The total cost of the new building was about $100,000.

Of the dedication, the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper stated:  “Simplicity and dignity, two marked characteristics of the new house of worship, were emphasized at the dedication of the massive synagogue of the TempleSociety of Concord..…The new temple is one of the most impressive buildings in Syracuse. Having followed out the Doric Renaissance style of architecture, with four immense columns, the general effect is not unlike that of the ancient temples, and the interior…is equal in beauty to any recent work of art along architectural lines in this city.”

In accepting the key, congregation president Thalheimer said: “Noble architecture, good taste, chaste and appropriate surroundings do have an important part in worship. The house in which we gather for worship should be fitting for such solemn experiences.”   Rabbi Guttman concluded his speech this way:   “In this country no Jew needs to be ashamed of his religion. Under the protection of the Stars and the Stripes we are permitted to worship God according to the dictates of our heart. All that

is required of us is to be upright and honest in our dealings with fellow men and be good American citizens. The better Jews we are the better Americans we will be.”

Joining Dr. Guttman was an ecumenical assembly of the city’s religious leaders. According to the newspaper: “Christian unity formed the basis of addresses by prominent Hebrew and Gentile clergymen at the Good Fellowship meeting…” “As Mr. Ferris came upon the platform he shook hands with Dr. Guttman and said, ‘As I looked through the long list of speakers, it occurred to me that were I engaged in the newspaper business I should flash some headlines like this: ‘Persecution of the Jews by the Christians resumed.’ This statement provoked both laughter and applause.”

At a time of tension within the Jewish community, and increased antagonism to Jews in America because the large influx of Eastern European Jews into the country, the classical style synagogue was both a mediating device, and a new emblem of religious and civic identity. In Syracuse and elsewhere, synagogues were erected as “noble buildings” to help make “better Jews and better Americans.”  Mixing a variety of architectural and cultural traditions, Jewish architects and their patrons created a bridge between Judaism – or Jewishness - and Americanism. 

During the administration of Benjamin Stolz, the new Social Hall and ReligiousSchoolBuildings were erected in 1929. The existing social hall could no longer accommodate the growing number of members. Gates Thalheimer’s bequest of $18,500 to the temple stimulated the membership to begin building operations and in November, 1929, the new Social Hall and School buildings were completed at a cost of $62,000.  Samuel Shopiro was chairman of the Building Committee.

Architecture

The TempleSociety of Concord is an outstanding example of the Neo-Classical Revival style popular in the United States from the period following the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago up to the advent of World War I. The Exposition inspired a period known as the American Renaissance, because of the enthusiasm for classical and Renaissance artistic models, the often lavish patronage of artists and architects, and the extensive building programs, especially of public buildings such as town halls, courthouses, and religious structures. 

Stimulated by the classical-style buildings at the Chicago Exposition, the period before the First World War saw thousands of white (and grey) buildings with columns and domes erected across America.  Greek classicism had helped define the values of the early republic.  Now, a full-bodied

Roman-Renaissance classicism reflected the values of the new American empire.  Synagogues that superficially resembled Greco-Roman temples began to be erected across America.

The TempleSociety of Concord clearly embodies the design principles for American synagogues laid out by Brunner in a series of articles in 1905 and 1907.  Brunner was the leading Jewish architect in America, but he was also a leader of all architects in America – serving as the president of the Architectural League in 1903-04, and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1910.  Brunner was widely recognized for his architectural accomplishments and his strong sense of civic responsibility.  At the time of the design and dedication of TempleSociety of Concord, Brunner was at the height of his career as an architect and planner.  Earlier in 1911, the federal building in Cleveland was dedicated to much acclaim, and in the summer of 1911 Brunner won the competition for the new StateDepartmentBuilding in Washington (not built).

Although hundreds of synagogues scattered throughout the ancient world had been the subject of archeological excavation, very little of this information was available when the early classical style synagogues were built.  In few cases can we assume that a sense of the Jewish past, as opposed to the American present, informed and influenced synagogue patrons or architects. After all, ancient synagogues were not built in the form of Greek or Roman temples.  Practically and symbolically this was undesirable.  Jews abhorred paganism and so rejected the architecture associated with pagan cults – this is what the holiday of Hanukah is all about.

Arnold Brunner was aware of the new discoveries and wrote about these finds and on occasion justified his own use of Classical forms for synagogue design by citing the archaeological record.  Brunner, who before the Columbian Exposition had designed several New York synagogues (Beth El, Shaaray Tefila) in a mix of Romanesque and Moorish style, erected his first classical synagogue shortly after the ChicagoWhiteCity” closed.  Brunner’s Congregation Shearith Israel in New York was dedicated in 1897, and immediately set a high standard for Classical synagogue design. 

Brunner was born in New York City to a German-Jewish family, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to Beth El, Shearith Israel and TempleIsrael synagogues in New York, Brunner also designed the Educational Alliance building on the New York’s Lower East Side, and Mount SinaiHospital. Later in his career, he designed a number of buildings at the Pennsylvania Capitol complex in Harrisburg, major buildings at ColumbiaUniversity, and at DenisonUniversity in Ohio, for which he designed the master plan.  Perhaps his best known work is the FederalBuilding in Cleveland, for which he won a national competition in 1901. That building became the centerpiece of the Cleveland Group Plan of 1903, a landmark in American city planning which Brunner worked on with Daniel Burnham of Chicago and John Carrere of New York.

The popularity of classicism and archaeological finds certainly inspired Brunner’s work at Shearith Israel, but there was also a specific historic precedent for Brunner’s design. Soon after Shearith Israel was completed, Brunner designed a second classically inspired synagogue that was more specifically dependent on ancient synagogue sources, the Frank Memorial Synagogue for the Jewish Hospital of Philadelphia, completed in 1901. For this project, Brunner drew explicitly on an ancient Jewish model: the large fourth century C. E. synagogue of Kefar Baram (Kfir Birim in Arabic) in what is now northern Israel. The exterior of the Frank Memorial Synagogue was modeled on this ancient synagogue that been made known by the Palestine Exploration Fund. A photograph is found in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article under "synagogues," illustrating the article written by Brunner. Brunner also was inspired by a smaller synagogue in the same location and one in nearby Nabratein. 

In an article in The Brickbuilder in 1907 Brunner explained his preference for the Classical style:

"Some years ago, when what was known as the 'Richardson Romanesque' was apparently becoming the expression of American ecclesiastical architecture, it seemed that in a slightly modified form it would be appropriate for the synagogue. When I built the Temple Beth El in New York I so believed. After Richardson's death, when his methods were not successfully continued by his followers and imitators, the Romanesque practically disappeared and the choice for architects by now, broadly speaking, lies between the two great styles, Gothic and classic. I am unhesitatingly of the opinion that the latter is the one that is fit and proper for the synagogue in America. With the sanction of antiquity it perpetuates the best traditions of Jewish art and takes up a thread, which was broken by circumstances, of a vigorous and once healthy style."  [Brunner, “Synagogue Architecture,” The Brickbuilder, XVI:3 (March 1907), 37]

In addition to his work at Congregation Sheareth Israel and the Frank Memorial Synagogue, Brunner’s precepts can be observed in the former Temple Israel in Harlem (now Mount Olivet Baptist Church), and this temple in Syracuse. TempleIsrael’s Ionic capitals on the façade’s applied portico are accented with small Stars of David inscribed in circles. TempleSociety of Concord in Syracuse shows of the Brunner’s signature elements, especially as developed from the mid-1890s on, and expressed in his synagogue and civic designs.  Certain similarities can be found with four previous synagogues, and in some cases, one can see how earlier or contradictions or irregularities of form and function have been reconciled and refined in the Syracuse design. 

The building is overtly classical, even to its hilltop setting which, with its solemn Greek Doric order gives the building an air of massive majesty beyond what its size might elsewhere elicit.  The lines of the building are simple and sure, both exterior and interior are devoid of architectural and decorative clutter.  When detail is used such as the Greek key design in the triumphal arch above the Ark and bimah, it stands out with purpose.   The proportions and acoustics of the sanctuary space are good, and the full windows on either side flood the space with daylight, creating a welcoming space for group prayer or quiet contemplation.

Conclusion 

The TempleSociety of Concord remains a vibrant congregation to this day and the property is beautifully maintained. This nomination was sponsored by the congregation to recognize the importance of both their history in the city of Syracuse, dating to 1839, and the architectural importance of their home.

Samuel Gruber’s research on Arnold W. Brunner is part of a larger project about the architect and planner made possible by a Brunner Grant from the AIA New York Chapter in 2006.  Dr. Gruber and TempleSociety of Concord gratefully acknowledge the support of the AIA New York Chapter.


    
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