Wooden Synagogue of America' Old West (Leadville, Colorado) Rises Again
By Samuel Gruber
ISJM, July 3, 2008
The rebuilding of one of the oldest synagogue buildings in the American West is nearing completion, after a 16-year effort. The small but elegant wood Temple Israel in the former mining center of Leadville, Colorado, is in its fourth and final phase of restoration thanks to a new grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund. Photos of the most recent construction work – in which the roof and interior were substantially recreated, have just been posted on-line.
The synagogue, marked by it two-towered façade, was designed by local architect George Edward King and dedicated in 1884 when Leadville was Colorado's second largest city. Leadville's Jews included the Guggenheim family and David May, founder the May Department Stores. The synagogue was an elegant structure outfitted with crystal chandeliers, stained-glass windows and a finely designed Ark. The congregation struggled through the decline of the town's mining industry which began in the 1890, and finally was forced to close in 1930. After the building was sold in 1937, it was used briefly as a single-family residence and as a church vicarage, and finally as an apartment house. "Restoration," has really meant a top-to-bottom rebuilding of almost all elements, especially after an electrical fire in 2006 gutted the rear part of the structure. .The architects have tried to replicate as closely as possible the originally forms of the building using a mix of the same materials, and new materials required to meet modern safety requirements and which can accommodate the installation of modern electric and other mechanical systems.
The Temple Israel Foundation was incorporated in April, 1987, "to acquire, historically rehabilitate, and maintain" the Temple Israel building and to research the history of the Jewish community in Leadville. In October, 1992, the Foundation purchased the Temple Israel building. Beginning in 1994 with the receipt of a matching grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund, the Temple Israel Foundation pursued the authentic restoration of the Temple Israel building. This first grant funded preliminary drawings and an assessment by Long Hoeft Architects of Georgetown, Colorado. A second matching grant was given in January 2001 and the restoration of the façade was completed in October, 2001. The Foundation received a third grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund in February, 2007, and for the reconstruction of the synagogue itself. Now, after more than a year of work, the interior structure and wall decoration should be completed this summer.
According to Bill Korn, President of the Temple Israel Foundation, the former Temple will be open for limited use as a museum (of the Jewish experience in the industrializing West) this fall. It will also be available for use as a synagogue, when needed.
For more information about the restoration, or to visit, email:
the Temple Israel Foundation