Saved from demolition and relocated from its original site in December 1969, the Jewish Historical Society's 1876 synagogue building--the oldest such structure in Washington, D.C--will move again, becoming the focal point of a state-of-the-art Jewish museum at the corner of Third and F Streets, NW.
Our new museum complex will anchor a $1.3-billion mixed-used project called Capitol Crossing, adjacent to one of D.C.'s most vibrantly renewed neighborhoods.
Capitol Crossing--a six-building office, retail, and residential complex developed by Property Group Partners--will extend onto a newly-built platform over Interstate 395. By restoring F and G Street, part of the original L'Enfant Plan, the project will reconnect Capitol Hill and the East End.
Infrastructure work began in April. Utility relocation and upgrades, roadwork, and platform construction are expected to take five years. Making a Museum will continue to report as construction progresses. Follow project news at www.3rdsttunnel.com.
Property Group Partners has confirmed Eataly, a high-end Italian market and restaurant with six worldwide locations, will be joining our new neighborhood.
A New Jewish Museum
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Capitol Crossing project will enable the Jewish Historical Society to write the next chapter in its history. Our new museum will be a welcoming place, showcasing the Washington region's Jewish life and heritage and reinterpreting our historic synagogue in engaging ways.
Our all-star team of preeminent consultants includes:
- Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP
- Lord Cultural Resources, cultural-institution planners
- Gallagher & Associates, exhibition designers
- Professional audience researchers
- Scholars from The George Washington University, American University, George Mason University, and University of Richmond
The new spaces will contain galleries, classrooms, an archival reading room, an oral history studio, offices, and a green-roof garden terrace. Look for more about our plans in future issues of Making a Museum.
Always separate from the main campus, Georgetown University Law Center arrived at its current location between First and Second Streets in 1971, a year or so after the relocation of the 1876 synagogue. According to Wallace J. Mlyniec, Lupo-Ricci Professor of Clinical Legal Studies: "When we moved here, most of residents of the old East End-Italian, Jewish, and African American middle-class families-had been moved out for the I-395 highway project."
Mlyniec has been involved in all of the Law Center's expansions since 1980. Pointing out that while construction projects are always somewhat disruptive to those living and working nearby, he predicts that Capitol Crossing "will bring an immense benefit to our students, staff, and faculty...making the entire neighborhood livelier 24 hours a day."
For several years, the Jewish Historical Society has organized walking tours for incoming Jewish students led by the Law Center's Jewish Chaplain Michael Goldman, a Society member. Other partnerships are likely once the highway is no longer a barrier and the new museum is completed.
Catching Up With… Henry and Sam Brylawski
Making a Museum chatted with the Jewish Historical Society's first presidential father-son pair, current president Sam Brylawski and his father, Henry Brylawski, 101. A few excerpts:
MaM: Soon after you became President in 1969, Henry, you took on the challenge of rescuing the former Adas Israel building.
Henry Brylawski: It was at the site of the Metro building, a full block between Sixth, Fifth, G, and F. In the end, the only building standing there was this synagogue on the corner. And of course they wanted us to get rid of it.
MaM: What was it like the day of the move?
Henry: It was greeted with astonishment by everybody that saw it. It was in the paper. And then after we got it on the foundation, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We have the building. We don't have the money to restore it, but we've got the building, we have the site.
MaM: For both of you: What is it about Washington Jewish history that interests you the most?
Henry: My wife's great-grandfather [Solomon M. Lansburgh] was the first ordained rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation and that was the 1850s. So that always interested me.
Sam Brylawski: My father had an interest in the history of this city my whole lifetime, and that affected me. And to me the historic synagogue represents post-Civil War Washington, when, as throughout America, all these immigrants are coming and they're establishing themselves in the United States.
MaM: How has the Jewish Historical Society changed over the years?
Sam: When my father was president, it was still, even after the building moved, a Society primarily of volunteers. We now have a professional staff, collecting the material culture of the Washington-area Jewish community, and preserving it, and interpreting it in new ways every year with new exhibitions and publications and public programs. It's extraordinarily active, with lectures and concerts and even singles gatherings. But we're bursting at the seams.
We've had a dream of having a museum for 10 years, even before the Capitol Crossing development opportunity. But then to have someone say, "You're going to move and we're going to provide you with a footprint to build an accompanying museum." Remember, the synagogue isn't even accessible to anyone disabled and now it will be. And now it will be in a setting that provides it some breathing room and with museum spaces that can help interpret the synagogue itself and vice-versa.
Henry: It will be more visible too. Because nobody really sees [the original] Adas Israel as they pass by.
Sam: And we'll be a central part of the redevelopment of this section of Washington. It will be an attraction.
Photograph from Synagogue Rededication, 1975
Albert and Lillian Small, key supporters of the synagogue restoration, greet Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg (left), at the building's rededication as a museum. Albert Small grew up in the neighborhood, and his father, Isadore, was a member of the synagogue.
Did You Know?
The 1876 synagogue is the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue's big brother! When Adas Israel outgrew its original synagogue, the congregation erected a new synagogue up the street at Sixth & I Streets, NW. It was dedicated in 1908.