Friday, December 7, 2012

Object of the Month: December 2012

Collection: JHSGW Institutional Records
Description: Invitation to the move of the 1876 historic synagogue, December 1969

Background: On December 18, 1969, after a series of urgent letters, frantic preparations, and collaboration from D.C. and federal government agencies, the Jewish Historical Society saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball. Moving the 270-ton building was a complicated feat and took three hours. Along the way, a gas main ruptured. The gas company burned off excess gas to prevent it from accumulating in nearby buildings, causing small fires in the manholes, which provided curious spectators with a bit of warmth on the bitterly cold day.

Built by Adas Israel Congregation and dedicated on June 9, 1876, the building originally stood at Sixth & G Streets, NW, in the heart of the city’s residential and commercial center. The congregation outgrew the building by 1906 and sold it to a real estate investor. Over the next 60 years, the first floor housed a bicycle shop, barber, a grocery store, delicatessen, and other businesses. A succession of churches worshipped upstairs in the sanctuary.

Over the years, the building’s original purpose faded from memory. By the late 1950s, a few members of the community started bringing the former synagogue’s history to the attention of JHSGW. Support was gathered for the building’s preservation, but a crisis soon struck. Metro, the new subway system, planned to demolish the entire block of buildings on which the synagogue stood in order to erect its headquarters. 

Today, the historic building is home to the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. Educational programs, school field trips, walking tours, and private events such as bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings take place in the former sanctuary.