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Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick, Georgia to Seek National Register Status

ISJM, January 4, 2009

 

Recognizing the historic value of their 1890 synagogue, members of Temple Beth Tefiloh in Brunswick, Georgia are beginning the process to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Jewish architect Alfred Eichberg, who designed the Old City Hall of Brunswick at the same he designed the synagogue, the building retains its original interior woodwork, stained glass and its exterior architectural details, which include the recurring motif of "Moorish" horseshoe arches.

According to the congregation: In 1886, David Glauber, a proponent of Jewish life, relocated to Glynn County and convened twenty-one Jewish men to form a congregation and build a house of worship. In 1888, a lot on Egmont Street was purchased and a building committee established. The temple, dedicated on November 7, 1890, was attended by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Reform Judaism in America. The synagogue has been in continuous use ever since. Wise came from Cincinnati to deliver the keynote address at the dedication [this history need to be confirmed for NR designation].

The congregation is small (under 50 families) but active. Through the International Survey of Jewish Monuments they will welcome any help from volunteers in documenting and research the history and architecture of their building.

For more information or to help, contact

Holle Weiss-Friedman, President
Temple Beth Tefilloh
1326 Egmont Street
Brunswick, GA 31520
email: sepr8@bellsouth.net
http://www.bethtefilloh.org/

please cc inquiries to samuelgruber@gmail.com

 

Georgia's 19th-Century Jewish Architects, Alfred Eichberg and Hyman Witcover
by Samuel D. Gruber

ISJM, November 13, 2008

In response to my blog entry on Savannah, Georgia (USA) Jewish-American architect Hyman Witcover, Atlanta-based architectural historian Richard Funderburke has responded with information about Witcover's mentor and colleague Alfred Eichberg (born: NYC, 1859) a professional architect in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, from 1880 until about 1900, with whom Witcover first found employment as a draftsman, and who around 1899 Eichberg made his partner. Funderburke writes that "Eichberg was extremely successful during the twenty years from 1880 to 1900 and seems likely to have been the first professional Jewish architect to live and practice in Georgia and the Deep South [he designed buildings in N.C., Florida and S.C. as well]."

Eichberg's "parents moved to Atlanta [from New York] about 1869 when Alfred Eichberg was ten years old. His parents became extremely wealthy and influential in the German and German-Jewish community. They were social and economic leaders -- and Alfred followed in their footsteps as a community leader here [Atlanta] and in Savannah which was the major center of his architectural practice. He worked with a local architect as a teenager -- a gentile who designed the synagogue of which his father was chairman of the building committee. Alfred then went to the German technical college in Stuttgart from about 1876 to 1880. At that time and before his 21st birthday, he returned to Atlanta and entered practice as an architect with one of the city's most established architects -- as his full partner."

"Eichberg designed synagogues in Brunswick, Ga. and Sumter, S.C. He also did renovations on the major synagogue in Savannah -- among many other buildings for the German-Jews of Georgia and for many gentiles as well. Hyman Witcover became his draftsman around 1894 and then his partner around 1899. Eichberg mysteriously gave up his Savannah practice in 1900 and returned to Atlanta presumably to help run the family businesses. Although he listed himself as an architect for many years thereafter in the city directories, he did not have an office as such and there are no buildings credited to him after 1900."

Richard writes that "I am pretty sure he was the first Jewish professional architect to maintain a practice in Georgia, and probably the Deep South It is my contention that he led the way for Jews in this profession in the South."

Richard is currently writing a long article on the life and work of Alfred Eichberg.


Savannah (Georgia) Historic B'nai Brith Synagogue Designed by Jewish Architect Hyman Witcover Recognized for Adaptive Reuse
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, October 12, 2008

(Click here for this story with photos at Sam's blog)

The Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) will present its 2007 preservation award on October 30th to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for its restoration and adaptive reuse of the former Congregation B'nai Brith Jacob synagogue. The 2008 HSF Annual Meeting and Preservation Awards to be held at the restored building, which has been adapted for use as the SCAD Student Center. I visited the building when it was still under construction, and have not seen the project finished, but here is some history about the structure, the congregation and the architect:

The former synagogue at 120 Montgomery Street, was built in 1909 and served the Orthodox Congregation until it moved to its new building in 1962. It was later home to Saint Andrew's Independent Episcopal Church, from 1970 to 2002. SCAD acquired the building in 2003 and began work on a new student center designed by Jairo Delgado Associates and constructed by the Carson Construction Company. The Center was opened in 2006 after a process of renovation and restoration.

While HSF states that the "the Moorish Mediterranean style revival architecture was based on the 1870 Central Synagogue in New York City," this is only true in the most general sense. The Moorish style became popular in America after the Civil War and large urban (and frequently illustrated) synagogues including the Isaac Wise Synagogue (Plum Street) in Cincinnati (1866), Temple Emanu-El in New York (1868), and Central Synagogue in New York (1872) all helped to popularize the style. In America, the style was embraced by Jews as being up-to-date, progressive and appropriately Jewish. Orthodox congregations, however, were slower to adopt the style and it only became common in Orthodox circles, mostly of post-1880 East European arrivals, one and even two generations after its introduction. The Eldridge Street Synagogue (1887) and Zichron Ephraim/Park East Synagogue (1889-90) in New York were among the first. In Georgia, the Orthodox Congregation Ahavath Achim (Atlanta) built an exotic, if not quite Moorish, synagogue in 1901, with west towers and domes similar - but more dramatic - to B'nai Brith Jacob in Savannah. By that time, most American Reform congregations had moved on to other styles (especially the Classical and Renaissance styles after 1896).

[for more on synagogue architecture in Georgia, although little about B'nai Brith in Savannah, see Steven H. Moffson, "Identity and Assimilation in Synagogue Architecture in Georgia, 1870-1920," in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 9, Constructing Image, Identity, and Place (2003), pp. 151-165]

The 28,834-square-foot, four-story, boxy-looking synagogue was designed by South Carolina born Architect Hyman Witcover (1871- 1936), who in his lifetime was one of Savannah's most successful and prolific architects. He was also one of the first American-born Jewish architects practicing in the United States. Witcover purportedly had an Orthodox Jewish background, was a member of the Young Men's Hebrew Association in Savannah during the 1890s, and 1904 he joined Congregation Mickve Israel, Savannah's Reform congregation, and in the 1920s served on its Board of Adjunta.

Witcover (sometimes listed as Whitcover) is probably best known for his design of Savannah's City Hall, a project championed by popular (Jewish) mayor Herman Myers [when Myers died, the city witnessed, "one of the largest processionals of the type ever seen … with a military escort by the detachment of the Savannah Guards and the entire command of the German volunteers."]

Among Witcover's other Savannah buildings are the Public Library, the Chatham Armory at the corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue, the Knights of Pythias Castle Hall on Telfair Square (demolished), Hick's Hotel on Johnson Square (demolished), the Jewish Educational Alliance on Barnard Street, and the Lewis-Kayton House on Drayton Street. He was also an active mason and designed the Scottish Rite Temple at the corner of Bull and Charlton streets. He designed and consulted on the designs of Masonic temples throughout the United States. temples in Charleston, South Carolina (where he was born); Montgomery, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida. A closer look at Witcover's work might point to stylistic and symbolic relationships between American synagogue and masonic temples.

Prominent exterior features of the B'nai Brith Synagogue include two towering domes on the west façade corners, each adorned with the Star of David, and original stained glass windows. According to HSF, "Countless historic elements were painstakingly restored; including ornamental woodwork and wood flooring, plaster castings to repair damaged ornamental columns, and the complete rebuilding of original stained glass windows...The rehabilitation took approximately two years. The center's overall design combines a strong structural foundation with modern amenities and a harmonious aesthetic."

Most of the Jewish liturgical furnishings and fittings were removed from the building when B'nai Brith Jacob moved to its new home, a modern building at 5444 Abercorn Street. The Ark, bimah and eternal light are all installed in the chapel of the new synagogue. Benches and the old chandeliers are in the social hall. The new building is best known for the east wall of its sanctuary decorated with two 30-foot murals depicting the symbols of the 12 tribes, historic events from the Bible, symbolic images for each Jewish holiday, and images of Jewish ritual objects (At the time of this writing I do not know the name of the architect and artist of the 1962 building).

Congregation B'nai Brith Jacob
was organized in 1861 under the leadership of Rabbi Jacob Rosenfeld, establishing a place of worship in Amory Hall. In 1866, the congregation built a wood frame building on the northeast corner of State and Montgomery Streets. Plans for a new and larger synagogue at the same site were made in 1907 and the building was dedicated in 1909 at a cost of $45,000. Since that time the congregation has remained one of the largest, most vibrant and active Orthodox communities in the American South.

The mission of Historic Savannah Foundation is to preserve and protect Savannah's heritage through advocacy, education and community involvement.


    
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