Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98
Fowler Street Synagogue

Boston's 1912 Fowler Street Synagogue to be Demolished

The City of Boston is planning to demolish the Fowler Street Shul, a Dorchester synagogue built in 1912 by Temple Beth El and vacated by the congregation 1967 when it moved to nearby Newton. When erected, the wood frame domed building was the first structure in Dorchester built as a synagogue. Dorchester subsequently became a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. In the words of Boston's Jewish Advocate, "The undertaking points directly to the spread of the community into the suburban parts of Boston." Though initially affiliated with the Conservative movement, by the 1920s the profile of the congregation changed to more Orthodox and working-class membership, as middle-class Conservative Jews moved yet again to a further suburb. By the 1960s, when the population of Dorchester had become increasingly African-American, most remaining Jews - largely poorer and religious - moved from the area. The building was then occupied by the Church of God and Saints of Christ between 1976 and 1985.

The erection, use, and abandonment of this building over the course of the century reflects general trends in Jewish settlement patterns. Typically, buildings erected in the spirit of optimism were often quickly discarded or passed on to others. With the loss of the Fowler Street Shul, Boston loses what was once an attractive building and a significant link with its Jewish past.

The City of Boston holds title to the building and is encouraging proposals for residential use of the site after demolition. The Boston Landmarks Commission was able to secure a stay of demolition to allow substantial documentation of the building by the American Jewish Historical Society under the supervision of historian Ellen Smith. Photographs and other materials will be held in the collection of the AJHS. -- SG

For further reading: J.D. Sarna and E. Smith, eds., The Jews of Boston: Essays on the Occasion of the Centenary (1895-1995) of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Boston, 1995); and Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon, The Death of an American Jewish Community: A Tragedy of Good Intentions. (The Free Press, New York, 1992).

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Updated: 23-July-98