Curator’s Catch

June 2017: Glass bottle from Sirota's Pharmacy

Glass bottle from Sirota's Pharmacy
  • Accession No.: 2010.26.3
  • Donor: Helene Edwards
  • Description:

    Four-sided glass bottle with stopper, 1921-1940s

On June 9, 1876, our historic synagogue was dedicated as the first home of Adas Israel Congregation in the presence of President Ulysses S. Grant -- who stayed for the entire three hour service. On that day it would have been impossible to foretell the long and vibrant life that this little synagogue -- the region's oldest -- would sustain along with its surrounding neighborhood.This month's Curator's Catch intersects with our synagogue's later history, when the building was moved from its location at 6th and G Streets, NW to 3rd and G Streets, NW. The artifact reminds us of what once existed at 3rd & G before our synagogue's arrival in 1969. Learn more about the 1876 synagogue's past and future on our website.

This little bottle transports us back to a time when pharmacies sold drugs in simple but elegant glass containers and offered mostly natural medicines to their customers. Our bottle held Potassium Sulfate, a white crystalline salt that dissolves in water and provided ease from skin diseases like neurodermitis. Since the bottle is inscribed with a hallmark, we can trace it back to the company Whitall, Tatum & Co., a leading supplier of apothecary bottles for pharmacies around the country for many decades.

Our bottle originates from Sirota's Pharmacy, a family-owned business on Third and G Streets, NW, in downtown Washington, D.C. Irving Sirota, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, opened it in 1921. He chose the bustling area near 7th Street, which was one of the city's main shopping centers. Along with a variety of other shops, Sirota's catered to a lively and diverse neighborhood of Jewish, German, Italian, and Greek immigrants. For more than three decades, Irving and his wife Esther advised patients on health issues and medical treatments, and served sodas and ice creams from the soda fountain. In 1957, the couple retired to Miami Beach and sold the store.

Top Photo: Historic synagogue on the move in 1969
Bottom Photo: Synagogue at Third & G Streets, NW

The neighborhood around Third and G Streets changed after the construction of Interstate 395 in the 1960s, and the building that had housed the pharmacy was demolished. A few years later, when the historic 1876 synagogue was facing the same fate, the Jewish Historical Society moved the building to the site where Sirota's once stood.

The children of Irving and Esther Sirota kept this little bottle as a keepsake and eventually donated it along with photographs and documents to the Society. It is a remnant of the neighborhood's vibrant immigrant and business community and illustrates how our synagogue's history is interwoven on so many levels with the experiences of the surrounding communities.