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Making a Museum - Issue 4 0 Comment(s)

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.

On Site

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.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com.

A New Jewish Museum

Excerpt from SmithGroup JJR presentation to the JHSGW Board of Directors.

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.

Collection Connections

From left to right, then-JHSGW President Henry Brylawski, Rep. Fred Schwengel—also president of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, and Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz look at the model at a fundraising event, 1969

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.

Did You Know?

Page from HABS architectural drawings. 

Library of Congress.

Due to its significance as the first synagogue erected in Washington, DC, the 1876 building is included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

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.

Making a Museum - Issue 3 0 Comment(s)

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.

On Site

If you’ve visited the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum in the past month, you can’t miss the construction. Work has officially reached the historic synagogue. Crews are installing a new 8” water main along the east side of Third Street, NW, from Massachusetts Avenue to E Street.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com.

A New Jewish Museum

NEH Advisory Panel meeting

Earlier this year, we were awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to plan the core exhibition in our new museum. The central experience of the museum, the core exhibition will reflect stories that distinguish the Washington-area Jewish community and its history. Our issues-oriented exhibition will enable visitors to explore regional and national history through the lens of area Jewish history.

In June, we kicked off our NEH advisory panel with a meeting to discuss themes and storylines for the exhibition. Our team includes top scholars, board members with related expertise, community advisors, and technical experts. Their insight and feedback on a variety of issues is helping us plan the core exhibition, develop a list of artifacts and topics to showcase, and test new ideas.

Our advising scholars:

  • Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African American, and Public History, George Mason University; former Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
  • Jenna Weissman Joselit, Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History, The George Washington University
  • Pamela Nadell, Professor and Chair, Department of History; Patrick Clendenen Chair, Women's and Gender History; Director, Jewish Studies Program. American University
  • Suleiman Osman, Associate Professor, American Studies Department; Director of Undergraduate Studies, The George Washington University
  • Eric S. Yellin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, University of Richmond

Meet the Neighbors: Holy Rosary Church

Heading east toward Capitol Hill, F Street comes to a stop at Holy Rosary Church, only a block from the Jewish Historical Society’s 1876 synagogue. Just as the synagogue was threatened by construction and then saved, the church too was slated for demolition when it was in the proposed path of Interstate 395 in the mid-1960s.

Father Ezio Marchetto with JHSGW Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum

“The only reason why this church survived is because it was the only Italian parish and the people really fought to preserve it,” says Father Ezio Marchetto. He became pastor of “the Italian Church at Judiciary Square” in June of 2013, a few months before Holy Rosary celebrated its centennial. Though the church was spared, the highway project destroyed the Italian neighborhood of which it was the religious, social, and cultural focus.

The Capitol Crossing development now underway will reopen F Street. The rebuilt neighborhood will be very different from the old, but Holy Rosary’s sanctuary has been filling up thanks to a recent wave of Italian immigration.

College-educated, but in many cases unable to find work in Italy, these immigrants are being hired for jobs in medical research, information technology, and other fields, according to Marchetto. “Plus all the people that are coming to work at the [Italian] embassy, the consulate, the World Bank, NATO, military people. These are all young families with children,” he says.  

The Vicenza-born pastor talks about the church’s continuing role as a “point of reference” for the now-dispersed and largely suburbanized Italian American community, including many second- and third-generation parishioners. Holy Rosary is also a special site in Washington for representatives of Italy and the Vatican. These officials attend annual celebrations at Holy Rosary such as the Festa della Republica Italiana (Festival of the Italian Republic, June 2) and the Messa per i Caduti in Guerra (Mass for the Fallen in War, November 4).

Capitol Crossing will bring changes to the campus of the beautiful church, completed in 1923. After the rectory, currently blocking F Street, is demolished, a new facility will be erected behind the church. A fenced garden will complete the landscape.

Holy Rosary is also using the opportunity to expand Casa Italiana—a language school, meeting/performance hall and café—caffé espresso, to be properly Italian—with striking statues of Marconi, Dante, Michelangelo, and Verdi in front. A dozen rooms will be added and Casa Italiana’s offerings of Italian language, literature, art and cooking classes, opera, concerts and film screenings are expected to grow.

“I think this community has a lot to offer,” says Father Marchetto. “Now I think what we have to do is to start to offer what we have to other communities.” The potential for cooperative programming with nearby cultural organizations, including Holy Rosary’s soon-to-be-even-closer neighbor, the Jewish Historical Society, is clear.

Collection Connections

Invitation to Synagogue Move, 1969
This invitation to “witness the moving of Washington’s oldest synagogue” was displayed for eight years in the National Building Museum exhibition Symbol and City. Alongside the invitation was a large photo banner depicting the synagogue move in progress.

Did You Know?

Mission of Light church, mid-1940s

After 32 years in the building, Adas Israel sold its first synagogue at Sixth & G Streets, NW, to Stephen Gatti, an Italian fruit dealer and real estate investor who lived a block away. Gatti divided up the first floor to house several retail shops. Over the years, the businesses included a bicycle shop, barber, grocery store, and Anthony Litteri's market (yes, that A. Litteri.). The upstairs sanctuary first hosted Saint Sophia, a Greek Orthodox congregation now located on Massachusetts Avenue near the National Cathedral, followed by a Pentecostal group known as Bible Hall, and then the Good Samaritan Chapel and the Mission of Light Church.

Although Jewish law frowns on the re-use of synagogues for other than Jewish use, many 19th and 20th-century American synagogues have been converted to churches, stores, or other secular uses—a phenomenon much more common in the United States than elsewhere.  

Eventually, the former synagogue lost its religious connection and the sanctuary was converted into a storage space for the downstairs businesses. The ark was used as a broom closet!

Making a Museum - Issue 2 0 Comment(s)

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.

On Site

Equipment along I-395

Courtesy of 3rdsttunnel.com

Maybe you read about a proposal floated to close part of I-395 a few months ago? The aim was to expedite work on Capitol Crossing, but after an uproar from commuters and politicians, the request was denied.

A revised construction plan was released in February, and the first phase of work on the highway soon began. Pile-driving, excavation, and demolition is underway. This phase of construction is scheduled to continue until August. Traffic will be impacted primarily overnight and on weekends.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com

A New Jewish Museum

The Society has been hosting workshops — 14 so far — to allow diverse audiences to evaluate proposed stories and themes for the new museum's core exhibition. Workshops in D.C. and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs are providing feedback that will guide curatorial decisions to make the new museum engaging and relevant for an array of audiences. These sessions also increase awareness about and interest in the new museum.

Museum Workshops

3 for the public |  EntryPointDC young professionals |  GWU Museum Studies class
JCCNV seniors | Jewish graphic designers | Jewish Museum of Maryland
Kehila Chadasha |  Moishe House - Capitol Hill | NoVA young professionals
Parents of middle-schoolers | Religious-school principals | The Jewish Federation's ROUTES

Meet the Neighbors: National Building Museum

Chase Rynd

Courtesy of National Building Museum

The National Building Museum opened in 1985 in the historic Pension Bureau headquarters on F Street, NW, between 4th and 5th Streets. According to Chase Rynd, executive director since 2003, Capitol Crossing will change how the National Building Museum interacts with the community.

"When that project is done, the National Building Museum will no longer be in a cul-de-sac. Right now, we're virtually at a dead end," he says. "When F Street reopens, I claim we will be in the center of the universe. More people than ever are going to look at this gigantic red-brick building and say, 'What the heck is that?'"

Rynd also looks forward to the critical mass that will result when the National Law Enforcement Museum and the new Jewish museum open to the public: "We want to become sort of the off-the-Mall museum center. The Mall attracts millions and millions of people, and they're clearly inclined to go to museums. So what we need to do is make sure we have a mechanism in place that broadcasts the fact that there are even more opportunities within walking distance."

His friendship with Society Executive Director Laura Apelbaum dates back to when the National Building Museum hosted the exhibitionJewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community in 2005-2006. What was the motivation to do so? "The fact that it was a fellow institution that needed help. And, frankly-to be totally selfish about it-it was also a great exhibition that would draw an audience that may or may not have ever come to the museum. That's a win-win," he says.

Regarding future collaborations: "As long as it's beneficial to both institutions, sign us up. Then it just becomes a question of the 'little' things like scheduling, funding, personnel, resources..." 

Catching Up With... Bernard Glassman

In a recent interview with Society Past President Bernard Glassman, he revealed that saving the original Adas Israel synagogue building in 1969 "is my legacy to my children. I consider it the one significant thing that I've accomplished in my life." Here is more from that interview:

MaM: How did you first become involved with the Jewish Historical Society?

Bernard Glassman: I received a notice of a walking tour of the old buildings in the city and that the original [Adas Israel] building was going to be included. I hadn't seen the building before and I was curious, so I joined the group. The walking tour was led by Evelyn Greenberg, who was critically important to this project. After the discussion of the building concluded, I handed her my card and I said to her: "If you ever want to do anything about trying to save this building, do get in touch with me." Lo and behold, she did, and that's how we began.

MaM: You'd been building houses for years by the time you saw the synagogue. When the question came up of how to move this building, you had an answer.

Glassman: My father bought property for a summer home on the Chesapeake. It had a small, white house on it. I said to him, "Let's buy the lot across the road, move the house over there, sell it, and then you'll have this beautiful waterfront lot where we can do anything you want to do."

That's how I met Wild Bill Patram, the house mover. He was a colorful character and a very capable guy. Without him, [the synagogue] could not have been moved. But because he'd helped move that little house, I knew him and I got in touch right away. When I asked if he could deal with the synagogue, he said, "Sure."

Synagogue at 5th and G Streets, NW.

JHSGW Collections.

Patram cut the synagogue off at the head of the first-story windows and then jacked it up and proceeded to move it down to the street. He's got two half-tracks [vehicles with wheels in the front to help steer and continuous tracks in the back] pulling it from the curb through the first intersection heading east.

There is a traffic-signal controller right at that intersection of 5th and G. It's a gray box on a post and there are flames coming out of it-and I mean big flames! And it's burning gas. There are gas lines under the street. And I'm thinking, "Oy vey, this street intersection is about to explode and me with it because I'm standing right on it."

Believe me -- that could have happened because it took the gas company three quarters of an hour to get there. People were being pushed away by the police. That was the scariest moment of my life. That was miracle number one, period. G-d was looking out for us already, without any doubt.

MaM: Your parents belonged to Adas Israel. That was when the congregation had moved to Sixth & I?

Glassman: I was bar-mitzvahed [at Sixth & I]. My father was one of the original contributors to the current Adas Israel on Quebec Street, just off Connecticut Avenue. That's synagogue number three.

MaM: A lot of your interest in the Society is based in your roots in these three Adas Israel buildings. Are you interested in other aspects of Jewish history?

Glassman: Very much so. History is a number-one interest of mine, especially archaic history -- anything from Solomon on.

Collection Connection

Bill Patram and wife Audrey with Bernard Glassman at the 125th anniversary of the synagogue's dedication, 2001

JHSGW Collections.

William B. "Wild Bill" Patram's Oral History, 2002

"Wild Bill" Patram, a structural moving engineer from Fairfax, Virginia, coordinated the historic synagogue's 1969 relocation. The building never would have survived without the crafty logistical skills of this specialist. Then-Society board member and journalist Sally Kline interviewed Patram in 2002 to record his story. Here's an excerpt:

How many buildings have you moved?
A little over 2,000. I specialized in the historical ones because I had better techniques. I moved the Foundry in Georgetown in 1973. They couldn't get anyone else to even bid on the famous Mother Seton house I moved in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It was built around 1750. Stone.

You must be a risk-taker to have done this work.
It's a high-risk business. You've got to have confidence that you'll study it long enough and find a way. The more complicated it is, you know it's going to take ten times longer than to move a normal one.

Would you consider [the synagogue] a routine move?
Oh no. This is special. Number one, it's heavy. It's old. It was very fragile.

Download entire interview (PDF)

Did You Know?

In September 1969 after Metro officials appropriated the original site, the synagogue was saved from destruction by an Act of Congress. President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law, allowing the building to be acquired by the District of Columbia and then leased to the Society.

Making a Museum - Issue 1 0 Comment(s)

On Site

First move, 1969

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.

Construction at Fourth & H Streets at Massachusetts Avenue, NW. 

Courtesy 3rdstreettunnel.com

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.

Just Announced

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:

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.

Meet the Neighbors: Georgetown University Law Center

Wallace J. Mlyniec

Courtesy of Georgetown University Law Center

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.

Collection Connection

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?

Adas Israel Building Committee at the construction site, Sixth & I Streets, NW, 1906. 

Courtesy of Washington Post.

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.