Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania)
Beth Sholom Synagogue
8231 Old York Road|
|Area||3.9 acres (1.6 ha)|
|Architect||Frank Lloyd Wright|
|NRHP reference #||07000430|
|Added to NRHP||March 29, 2007|
|Designated PHMC||September 21, 2008|
Beth Sholom Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located at 8231 Old York Road in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. It is the only synagogue designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Beth Sholom is Hebrew for House of Peace. Completed in 1959, it has been called a "startling, translucent, modernist evocation of an ancient temple, transposed to a Philadelphia suburb by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007 for its architecture.
The congregation originally established a synagogue in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1919. It was one of the first congregations to move to the suburbs at its present home in the 1950s.
- 1919–1964: Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen
- 1964–2000: Rabbi Aaron Landes
- 2000–2003: Rabbi Gershon Schwartz
- 2003–2004: Rabbi Frederic Kazan (interim)
- 2004–present: Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
- 2004–present: Rabbi Andrea Merow
- 1957–1967: Cantor Seymour Schwartzman
- 1968–1971: Cantor Neil Newman
- 1971–1975: Cantor Robert H. Albert
- 1975–2011: Hazzan David F. Tilman
- 2011–present: Hazzan Jeffrey Weber
The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who accepted the commission in September 1953. The building was completed and consecrated in 1959. With its steeply inclined walls of translucent corrugated wire glass. The ceiling is a fiberglass material. It projects skyward like a "luminous Mount Sinai" (Wright's own description), it has been cited as an example of the Mayan Revival architecture style. Neither material was designed by Wright. A sample of the roof is on display in the visitor center. No modifications have been made to the exterior since initial construction.
During the day, the interior is lit by natural light entering through the translucent walls overhead. At night, the entire building glows from interior artificial lighting.
In front of the synagogue, and separated from it by about 25 feet (7.6 m), is a laver or fountain. In ancient days, the laver (from the word "to lave" or "wash") was made of copper. In it worshipers would wash their hands before the sacrifice and service. The lovely fountain with flowing waters in front of the entrance is a symbol of the old laver and is also a symbol of purity upon entering religious worship.
The main sanctuary is large enough to hold about 1020 people. The second sanctuary, which holds over 250 people, is on the first floor of the synagogue. Rabbi Cohen had requested the main sanctuary be on the second floor to be lit by natural light during the day. The roof is 110’ from floor to ceiling. Giving the impression of the roof rising towards the heavens. In 2009 the congregation opened a visitor center. Tours are given by docents several days a week.
In 2015 an elevator was completed. This was not due to the Americans with Disabilities Act but a choice of the congregation.
The design is considered by critics to be the "most expressive" design drafted in Wright's career for any house of worship. It has been listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 17 American buildings which are to be preserved as an example of Wright's contribution to American architecture.
National Historic Landmark plaque
- List of National Historic Landmarks in Pennsylvania
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
- National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 30, 2013.
- "Beth Sholom Synagogue". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- Joseph M. Siry, Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
- "Interior Secretary Kempthorne Designates 12 National Historic Landmarks in 10 States". U.S. Department of the Interior Press Release. 2007-04-04. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
- Siry, Joseph M. Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2011) 705 pp.
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