We're thrilled to publicly debut the conceptual rendering for the exterior of the new museum by our architects SmithGroup JJR.
The facility will feature an airy lobby, multipurpose room, three exhibition galleries, office suite, and program spaces.
We look forward to sharing more with you!
Major Progress on Capitol Crossing
In mid-June, Capitol Crossing, the $1.3-billion mixed-used project adjacent to the Lillian & Albert Small Museum, finished the highway deck on which the first of five planned buildings will be erected.
To celebrate this work, developer Property Group Partners released this time-lapse video of this phase of construction. Directly center and toward the back of the frame sits our historic synagogue, witness to the project.
In the coming months, the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum will become more than just a witness, but rather a participant in the project. It will be picked up and moved to a temporary location for a few years until its new site at Third & F Streets, NW, is ready. We anticipate the first move will occur by the end of the year.
Preparing For The Synagogue Move
The first big step in the move of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum -- emptying the building -- is complete.
For seven days, a team specializing in relocating museum collections took great care packing the following into a truck:
500 linear feet of archival documents, photographs, and scrapbooks
153 oversized documents and photos in flat-file cases
6 original pews from Adas Israel, Ohev Sholom, Washington Hebrew, and Ohr Kodesh
As well as furnishings including:
20 metal shelving units
28 light fixtures
6 reproduction pews
2 custom-made museum-quality cabinets
2 bimah chairs
All of these items are now stored by a museum-services company in a controlled-access vault in a secure facility with fire protection and 24/7 climate control. Our staff will be able to access and work with the collections at any time.
We're pleased to introduce our new curatorial team --
Christiane Bauer, Curator
Christiane’s most recent work experience was at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany where she worked as a provenance researcher. Prior to that, she worked at the Jewish Museum Berlin for seven years in a variety of curatorial and exhibition-related positions. She is fluent in German and English and has basic knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.
Christiane holds a BA and MA in German History and Jewish Studies from the Free University of Berlin and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University of Kassel, Germany. Her dissertation project focuses on post-war German American identity; for her research she spent 10 months traveling throughout the U.S. and conducted more than 60 oral history interviews.
Christiane recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Germany and is very excited and honored to join our team.
Get to know Christiane!
What excites you about your new position?
Building a new museum and working on a new exhibition that will shape the museum’s future scope and reputation is the most exciting project I could imagine myself working on as a curator. I’m very excited about this great opportunity and looking forward to its manifold challenges.
What told you the Jewish Historical Society was a good fit for you?
I felt very drawn towards the variety of assignments the position encompasses and which match perfectly with my background in curating exhibitions, working with archival and artifact collections, and conducting oral history interviews. I instantly liked the idea of working on an exhibition which emphasizes political history and the issue of social justice. It’s a great fit for D.C. and sets JHS apart from other museums.
What do you hope to learn here?
I’m excited to learn more about D.C.’s unique Jewish history and hope to do that through a lot of interaction with the community. Also, the intersection of Jewish history with the local and national civil rights movement is a fascinating topic which I can’t wait to dive into more.
What are you enjoying about living in Washington, D.C.?
I like the city’s international profile and its extensive cultural scene. D.C. seems to be the hub for many political, social, and cultural endeavors worldwide. A big draw for me personally is that I have access to some of the most prominent museums in the world and that there’s always an interesting event at an embassy, gallery, or institute to go to.
People might be intrigued by a German working on a PhD in American History. When did you discover your interest in this topic?
I discovered my interest in this topic when I attended a conference on German immigrants and their descendants in New York City. During the presentations it became apparent that not a lot of emphasis had been made to illustrate immigrants’ attempts to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage after having settled in their new home. So I did an oral history interview study with second generation immigrants about their perception of being German-American, how they relate to their German heritage, and what stories, rituals, and traditions they keep up and transfer to the next generation. In that sense, I consider my PhD topic as part of American but also German History.
Martin Moeller, Senior Curatorial Consultant
Martin has served as the Senior Vice President/Senior Curator at the National Building Museum since 2001. We have known Martin since 2005, when he was instrumental in bringing our Jewish Washington Scrapbookexhibition to the Building Museum.
Martin has worked as an independent curator, writer, and editor and consulted for clients including the Museum of the City of New York, The Liberty Science Center in Philadelphia, and other museums and non-profit organizations. He has an extensive background in curating major exhibitions as well as in D.C. history and architecture.
Martin previously worked as the Executive Director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He holds a MA and BA in Architecture from Tulane University.
Get to know Martin!
What about our work and plans for the new museum interests you?
First, I have been keenly interested in Jewish history and culture since my early teen years, when the family of my best friend at the time, who was Jewish, helped to take care of me after my mother died suddenly. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house, where I enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and rituals and drawing comparisons to my own family’s Catholic and Protestant roots. Since then, I have considered Judaism to be a part of my cultural heritage (though I do not practice any religion).
Second, I am very interested in Washington’s local history, as distinct from the national political developments that typically overshadow our city’s distinct identity. I think most visitors and many locals underestimate the breadth and richness of the city’s ethnic history. JHSGW has played a vital role in preserving and telling stories of Washington’s Jewish community, but its visibility has been limited to date. The new museum will bring greater prominence and reach not only to JHSGW, but also to those stories.
What impact do you expect Capitol Crossing to have on our neighborhood and the new museum?
It’s amazing how much damage even a relatively modest freeway cut such as that of the I-395 spur can do to the surrounding neighborhood. It isolated Union Station from the central business district, created pockets of abandonment and disinvestment, and then hampered redevelopment even during major building booms. Capitol Crossing will repair that urban wound. It has the potential to redefine perceptions of the city center while fostering new traffic patterns and potentially creating a new urban nexus. JHSGW's museum will obviously benefit from that. Indeed, if key retail attractions such as Eataly sign on as expected, JHSGW may have vast new audiences at its doorstep!
What do you enjoy about working as a museum curator in Washington, D.C.?
Like most curators, I suppose, I enjoy research, but I also greatly enjoy sharing what I have learned with the public. Washingtonians tend to be smart and culturally curious. They not only make great audiences for exhibitions and programs, but also engaged participants—they ask good questions and they talk to other people about what they have seen and learned. I love watching visitors move through an exhibition and seeing their faces light up when they discover something fascinating.
Have you heard? We're building a new museum!
The 1876 synagogue is moving a block south to Third & F Streets, NW, where the Society will build an adjacent, state-of-the-art Jewish museum.
The new complex will anchor a $1.3-billion mixed-used project called Capitol Crossing — a five-building office, retail, and residential complex developed by Property Group Partners — which will extend onto a newly-built platform over Interstate 395.
The synagogue’s streetscape has been permanently altered – the trees on the adjacent sidewalk were removed in August. Around the construction zone, utilities continue to be relocated, including the installation of the new water main along Third Street. Down on I-395, crews have been installing deep foundation columns and walls and excavating the Second Street retaining wall.
In late October, the Board of Directors selected SmithGroup JJR as architects for the new museum.
The selection process began with sending a Request for Qualifications to approximately 20 firms with experience in additions to historic buildings, museum design, and complex projects in Washington, D.C. After receiving packages from 12 firms, the Museum Steering Committee invited five firms for interviews. Three of the five were asked to submit fee proposals and participate in a design exercise and additional interview. The Steering Committee then visited local projects designed by the two finalists.
This decision to engage SmithGroup JJR took into account the firm’s extensive museum experience, attention to value engineering, and pricing.
Catching Up With… Lief Dormsjo, Director, District Department of Transportation
Nominated by Mayor Muriel Bowser soon after she took office, Leif Dormsjo was confirmed as director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation in March. Making a Museum spoke with Dormsjo, who was previously deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, about the Third Street Tunnel Project, the first phase of Capitol Crossing.
MaM: When you came to DDOT, how much did you know about Capitol Crossing?
Dormsjo: I knew about the project mainly from the concerns raised about some of the traffic impacts. Shortly before Mayor Bowser came into office, there was a story about the idea that 395 would be closed permanently during the construction period. And that generated a lot of severe reaction from the Congressional delegations. I know Senator [Mark] Warner and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton intervened pretty rapidly to try to halt any plans associated with that.
MaM: What’s happening now and what is DDOT’s involvement?
Dormsjo: As you can see from the site right now, they’re working on those caissons. So you’ve got a lot of heavy equipment, you’ve got a lot of personnel out on the job site. We’ve got to keep them safe… And then we’re also looking very closely at the travel experience: whether or not we have clear signage and we’ve got clear markings on the road, or the Jersey barriers have been set up appropriately. So far we haven’t had any issues on the safety front. It is slower travel through there, without a doubt—that kind of is the price of progress—but it’s safe travel.
MaM: Is this the biggest transportation-related project in the District right now?
Dormsjo: This is the Big Kahuna in terms of real-estate development in the city. It’s three whole city blocks. So the development program is really exciting and will generate a lot of activity in this area. The infrastructure piece is $200 million. That’s a big-ticket project, but—as far as our transportation program—the South Capitol Bridge project is north of $500 million. Now, the construction here is being done by the private company. It’s not a government project. There’s no government money in the project, which is pretty phenomenal… And it’s great that they’re actually going to be making some improvements that the public will benefit from on the transportation side. They’re going to replace all the ventilation systems, give us a brand new tunnel ventilation system.
MaM: So that part of the highway will not only be decked over, but upgraded.
Dormsjo: We’re going to be the beneficiary of new equipment, new systems, and hopefully a ventilation system that’s durable for the long haul. The highway system helps us support commerce and commuting. You’ve got to have a roadway system that works not just for the District residents, but also our visitors and employees coming from Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere. So this is a great example of us reinvesting in the Eisenhower Highway System, but at the same time not being held back by those original transportation-planning decisions. We’re able to kind of remake history a bit here and retrofit a highway that’s served its purpose, and will continue to serve its purpose. But the 1950s and ’60s style of transportation planning—neighborhood connectivity, urban planning principles, walkable green neighborhoods was not in their vocabulary.
MaM: How does transit-oriented thinking fit into the project?
Dormsjo: When you look at a project you normally want to see what percentage of your trips are going to be auto category vs. transit vs. pedestrian… They’re got a very healthy percentage that’s in that transit-pedestrian-and-bike category. Development that’s emphasizing those categories of travel are the ones that we really want to support. Certainly there’s good bus service running through there—not just the Metro, but we have our Circulator bus that comes through there as well.
Bernard Glassman, who was featured in a previous issue of Making a Museum, contributed this scale model of the historic synagogue to use in meetings between the Jewish Historical Society and government agencies during the efforts to preserve the building in the late 1960s. The model is now on display in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum.
HABS, the National Park Service’s effort to document the country’s architecture, is the federal government’s oldest historic preservation program. HABS’s records are housed at the Library of Congress and the synagogue’s documentation, which includes photographs, a detailed description of the building and its history, and architectural drawings, can be accessed online.
The material was prepared in 1969 before the synagogue was moved and was updated later to indicate the new location. The architectural drawings depict the synagogue’s interior and exterior prior to the restoration work, which was completed five years after the move. Four of five accompanying photographs show the building at Sixth & G Street, NW. The fifth depicts the building moving down G Street, NW.
Today is the 46th anniversary of the move of the historic Adas Israel synagogue. Dedicated by the congregation in 1876, the building stood for more than 90 years at Sixth & G Streets, NW, before being slated for demolition to make space for Metro's headquarters.
Three members of the Jewish Historical Society -- Evelyn Greenberg z"l, Henry Brylawski z''l, and Bernard Glassman -- worked tirelessly with D.C. and federal governments to save the building from the wrecking ball. To move a building in the federal city, President Richard Nixon had to sign a bill into law!
On December 18, 1969, the building was moved three blocks to its present location at Third & G Streets, NW. The first floor was too weak to survive a move, so the structure was severed horizontally and only the second and third floors (sanctuary and balcony levels) made the journey by flatbed truck. Read an interview with "Wild Bill" Patram, who engineered the move.
As part of a major new development project, the historic synagogue will soon move again -- this time one block south to the corner of Third & F Streets, NW. The new location will allow the synagogue to regain its original orientation facing east toward Jerusalem and will provide land on which to build an adjacent new museum. Follow our progress on this project through our Making a Museum e-newsletter.
Support these and other exciting activities with a year-end contribution to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington!
When I was internship-shopping this past spring, I was mainly looking for two attributes: a place where I could get a good grasp of how a non-profit organization functions while also satisfying my interest in history. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got both. The tasks I handled stretched across multiple aspects of the organization – from developing a new tour of the Jewish side of H Street, NE, to compiling a report of potential architect firms to build a new museum.
My first project at the JHSGW was cataloging photographs into the database, a task much more exciting than what one might presume. Not only did I learn a great deal about Washingtonians’ roles in fighting for Soviet Jews’ rights, but I learned how to find background information and articulate the photographs’ context into the descriptions so that the photos could be more fully interpreted and understood. And that was just day 1.
By my third day, I was attending a conference with the executive director, Laura Apelbaum, who spoke on what it takes to build a museum in the 21st century; she even asked for my help on how to improve the lecture for the next occasion.
Perhaps my favorite project was developing the new walking tour on H Street, NE. The project consisted of heavily researching the history of the neighborhood, with a particular focus on the many Jewish-owned family businesses that were located there. I was tasked with the responsibilities of organizing this information and creating a draft outline of the tour itself. I worked alongside the curator, taking a field trip out to the street to examine the area and conducting an oral history interview to learn more about the street’s Jewish history.
In most of the projects that I was assigned I was treated more as a coworker than as an intern. This allowed me to get a more personal experience out of internship and gave me a clearer idea of how the JHSGW functions. My boss, Wendy Turman, the Director of Collections, was constantly checking in with me to make sure that the work I was doing was in line with my interests, which made me take away more from the experience. Furthermore, Claire Uziel, Special Programs Manager and my neighbor in the office, was always there to point me in the right direction whenever I got stuck (side note – Claire knows everything there is to know about everything). But, most importantly, everyone in the office was constantly giving me feedback on my work. This helped me keep improving throughout my time here, thus making this experience educational, but it also allowed me to have a greater contribution and impact throughout my internship.
Whether you are reading this because you are trying to decide if you want to intern here (or know someone who might), or you just want to get a little inside scoop of what goes on inside the office, the most important thing to realize is that there are always a lot of projects that need to get done. So, your contributions – whether it is in the form of an internship, volunteer work, or a donation – goes a long way and makes a real difference.
Ilan Levine is a rising senior at Union College (Schenectady, NY), working on a B.A. in History.