Sunday, March 12, 2017

One thing I'd like to do...

...more of is make a record of old buildings I'm afraid are in danger of being torn down.

So I was pleased to learn after stumbling upon this old synagogue at 5029 N. Kenmore that it would be converted to residential use by a preservation-minded developer.

Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue, was sold to Cedar Street in April, 2016. The limestone Romanesque structure was completed in 1922 after the merger of two earlier congregations, First Hungarian Agudas Achim, founded on Maxwell Street in 1884, and North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel.

From a 2002 piece in the Reader, "Can This Temple Be Saved?" (my emphasis):

With the new building and wealthy congregants that included members of the Arie Crown family, the synagogue flourished. "Agudas Achim had the largest sanctuary in the city," says Philip Lefkowitz. "I'd say one in five Jews on the north side had an affiliation with it. In its heyday there was a rabbi, a cantor, and a choir at every sabbath. People tell me that on the High Holidays you couldn't get in, so they had to hold youth services at the Aragon Ballroom. They attached the religious school in 1948. Unfortunately, in the 60s the neighborhood went down, and the Jews left for the suburbs." Agudas Achim's membership plummeted, and the building fell into disrepair from water damage and neglect.

And from Crain's, "Uptown synagogue slated for residential":

In 1924, the congregation's one-story building was enlarged with the addition of the ornate sanctuary and other spaces, designed by architecture firm Dubin & Eisenberg.

It's a commanding presence on its block, with a three-arched entrance porch, Renaissance revival decorations and a ribbed parapet on its blonde brick facade, as well as a pair of stained-glass Stars of David. Inside, the lobby is as grand as an old movie palace, with a pair of marble staircases rising to the second-story entrance into the sanctuary.

Hard to believe from the outside, but its sanctuary, considered one of the most ornate in Chicago, once held over 2,000 worshipers beneath a 60-feet-high ceiling. I wish I could have seen it:

Stained-glass windows line two sides of the space and on a third form a kaleidoscopic arch around the sanctuary's focal point, the ark, or cabinet for housing the sacred Torah. The ark is 30 feet tall and decorated lavishly with Italian mosaic tile.

According to DNAinfo, it's now scheduled to be converted into a 40-unit apartment building with parking.

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