CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Park Synagogue alarmed historical curators and fans of mid-century modern architecture earlier this year when it listed its main shrine and education building off Mayfield Road for sale.
But now it’s time to expire. The 152-year-old conservative Jewish congregation, which focuses its operations on a new worship and education campus in Pepper Pike, has come up with a new plan to preserve its historic building in Cleveland Heights, designed by German Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn, one of the main representatives of expressionist architecture at the beginning of the 20th century.
The congregation announced today that it has chosen to work with Sustainable Community Associates, a northeastern Ohio real estate partnership established in 2002 by three recent graduates from Oberlin College who have spent two decades building or renovating more than $ 100 million of projects in Oberlin and Cleveland. .
This is good news for the synagogue building, a masterpiece by Mendelsohn, who fled the Nazis in 1933 to eventually establish himself in the United States as a designer of Jewish places of worship.
Completed in 1950, Park Synagogue is widely regarded as a masterpiece by Mendelsohn, who fled the Nazis in 1933 to eventually establish himself in the United States as a designer of Jewish places of worship.
Sustainable Community Associates agreed to spend a year creating a master plan for the synagogue campus in Cleveland Heights and then carrying out the resulting project as lead developer.
Park Synagogue’s goal is to ultimately transfer ownership of its Mendelsohn building and the surrounding 28-acre campus to 3300 Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights while preserving and finding dynamic new uses for one of the most significant examples. of 20th century religious architecture in America.
The central objective is to create an intergenerational community of new users on campus, possibly including arts, culture, education, housing and social services in a number of combinations. In theory, the project would generate enough income or donations to preserve the historic Mendelsohn building.
The process will include market research and fundraising, as well as discussions with foundations and potential campus users.
The synagogue and the development corporation want to hear from interested organizations through the Sustainable Community Associates website, Sustainableca.com/park/.
The Mendelsohn Building is known for its massive copper dome and sanctuary with a triangular chapel extending from its north side like the bow of a wave cutting ship. An educational wing and a fan-shaped courtyard extend from the south side of the sanctuary.
Save a masterpiece
The building is widely regarded as the most important of the four synagogues that Mendelsohn designed in America before his death in 1953 in San Francisco at the age of 66.
It’s also arguably the most important building by a first-generation Modernist architect in northeast Ohio, a region long dominated by clients with less adventurous design tastes. In this sense, the synagogue is particularly important locally as a rare progressive outlier in the architectural history of the region.
The building is showing signs of age. Leaders of the congregation estimate that it could take at least $ 3 million to stabilize the structure, which requires masonry repairs and improvements to its roof. They see the building as a whole as in fair condition.
When they put the building up for sale through Allegro Realty in May, the congregation raised the specter that they were eager to shed an expensive burden, but that was never the intention.
“We all felt a real responsibility to find the best fit for Park Main because of its architectural significance, Park’s history and our commitment to Cleveland Heights and the good relationship we have with Cleveland Heights,” said Susan Ratner, president of the congregation since 2019. “We didn’t want to be part of the urban exodus.
Sustainable community partners Naomi Sabel, Josh Rosen and Ben Ezinga first learned that the Park Synagogue campus was on the market from friends of the congregation. After an initial visit, they began discussions with leaders of the congregation, which resulted in a memorandum of understanding earlier this month.
The deal coincides with a separate Park project to expand its facilities at Pepper Pike, where it built a new sanctuary, library, and educational wing in 2005.
The congregation raised $ 29 million in a $ 32 million fundraising campaign that includes money for the new building and an improved endowment. Construction is expected to be completed within a year.
Park’s executive director Ratner and Stuart Deicher estimated that operating the Cleveland Heights campus, which includes a community mikvah, or ritual bath, and daycare, costs the congregation about $ 350,000 per year.
A precedent in Saint-Louis
Over the coming year, Sustainable Community Associates will consult on the Park Main project with longtime mentor Richard Baron, a 1964 Oberlin College graduate, co-founder and chairman of St. John’s-based real estate firm McCormack Baron Salazar. Louis.
Baron set a powerful precedent for the adaptive reuse of Park Synagogue when he successfully led an effort in the mid-1980s to convert another major Mendelsohn synagogue, B’nai Amoona, into the home of the Center of Creative Arts, an important regional art center for children. Located in the St. Louis suburb of University City, the building now hosts programs for a racially diverse population of 50,000 children per year.
Speaking of the Cleveland Heights building, Baron said in an interview on Wednesday that “it is an exceptional piece of architecture, just extraordinary. I hope that whatever emerges from the planning process will excite everyone in [Greater] Cleveland, and it becomes an important part of the fabric of Cleveland’s cultural community.
Baron is independently engaged in Cleveland as the developer of the first phase of Innovation Square, a project ultimately designed to provide hundreds of new apartments south of the Cleveland Clinic in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland along New Boulevard. Opportunity Corridor.
Cleveland architect Jack Bialosky, also a consultant on the Park Synagogue project, is the senior manager of a company founded by his father, architect Jack Bialosky Sr., who knew Mendelsohn and whose company designed an extension park installations in the 1960s.
More than a building
The master plan could involve specifying the potential for new construction on undeveloped parts of the synagogue campus in Cleveland Heights, including a large surface parking lot next to Mayfield Road currently used to park buses used by the School District of Cleveland Heights-University Heights.
The wooded areas on campus would be preserved, but the developer and the congregation are also interested in exploring how the synagogue campus could be part of a system of trails and greenways that could connect to Cain Park in Cleveland Heights and in Forest Hill Park, part of which extends into East Cleveland.
Pursuing such goals would be one way of honoring Mendelsohn’s original vision for the entire park campus in Cleveland Heights.
“It is the Mendelsohn campus that needs to be revitalized, not just the shrine,” Sabel said.
Generally speaking, the congregation wants to emulate the example set by The Temple-Tifereth Israel in 2010 when it transferred ownership of its architecturally significant building to University Circle at Case Western Reserve University, which the renovated as Maltz Performing Arts Center.
Under an agreement between the university and the Temple, the Reformed congregation will have access to the facility for 99 years, eight days a year, for use on major holidays and other events.
Ratner said Park Synagogue is looking for a similar arrangement at its Cleveland Heights facility.
The problems faced by Park Synagogue are typical of those faced by many religious communities in urban areas across America, where congregations are migrating from older buildings in urban centers to new facilities in ever-expanding suburbs.
Ratner said she was thrilled when Sustainable Community Associates expressed interest in Park Synagogue and offered to take on the project.
“It’s the epitome of all you can hope for leaving a place that has all of your history,” she said. “I’m really excited about this.”