LauraGrace wrote:Appeal made to save landmark Calgary synagogue
By Bryan Weismiller, Calgary Herald October 16, 2012...
Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Appea ... z29TTn4dig
Appeal of the Shaarey Tzedec Demolition
Thursday, November 22, 2012
1212 – 31 Avenue NE
Statement to the Subdivision Appeal Board
By Irena Karshenbaum
[History of the Cliffbungalow Mission community]
The Mission Area Redevelopment Plan states:
Mission may be the earliest known residential community in Calgary and is older than the City itself. It was inhabited for thousands of years by aboriginal peoples including the Blackfoot, Stoney and Sarcee (Tsuu T’ina).
In 1875, two of the first white settlers were Oblate priests, Fathers Scollen and Doucet. They established a Catholic mission south of the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers called Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace). When the North-West Mounted Police arrived, the mission was moved to the area that is now called Mission.
In 1884, when Calgary was incorporated as a town, Father Lacombe was obtaining title to the land for this Catholic mission from the Government of Canada.
In 1888, The Rouleau House was built and today is one of Calgary’s oldest houses.
In 1889, the first St. Mary’s Church was built. In 1893, the year before Calgary became a city, the Sacred Heart Convent was built.
In 1899, the Mission was incorporated into the Village of Rouleauville, a French-Canadian community. The streets were given the names of the local French Catholic leaders such as Lacombe, Scollen, Doucet and Leduc.
In 1905, St. Mary’s Parish Hall was built.
In 1907, Mission, along with Cliff Bungalow, was annexed to the City of Calgary.
In 1909, St. Mary’s School was built (first purpose built Separate School in Calgary).
In 1913, a worldwide economic recession caused the housing boom in Calgary to collapse.
Mission is completely unique to Calgary because of its association with the historic Catholic Mission.
The Mission ARP recognizes The Cathedral District is bounded by 18 Avenue to the north, 2 Street SW to the west, the south boundary of the Sacred Heart Convent lands to the south and the Elbow River and 1 Street SE to the east. The City recognizes the Cathedral District for its concentration of buildings and structures relating to the history and development of the Mission community. Historic sites on the City’s Inventory, as of 2004, in the Cathedral District include:
• C.N.R. Station (formerly St. Mary’s Parish Hall)
• Sacred Heart Convent
• Rouleau House
• St. Mary’s Cathedral, is also a prominent landmark in the area.
• House of Israel (Art Deco)
[The Jewish Community’s Entrance into the Mission Neighborhood]
Into this Catholic milieu came Calgary’s Jewish community.
The first Jewish family to settle permanently in Calgary were Jacob and Rachel Diamond in 1889. Their home quickly became the heart of the Jewish community. It took the tiny community 20 years before they could afford to build their first synagogue, the House of Jacob, at 323 – 5th Avenue East where most Jewish homes were originally concentrated. [But despite best community efforts to save or relocate the House of Jacob to Heritage Park, the synagogue was demolished in 1968 to make way for what is now Bow Valley College. Last year, the presence of Calgary’s first synagogue was acknowledged on the Bow Valley College building with a plaque.]
With the growth of Calgary, the Jewish community began to move south. In 1929, they started building the House of Israel, in the Mission community, at 102 – 18 Avenue SE just east of the original St. Mary’s Cathedral. In 1930, construction was halted and was not resumed until after World War II when the building was finally completed in 1949. The House of Israel served as a community centre, a Hebrew School, it housed the Beth Israel Conservative Congregation and was home to a number of community organizations.
The Jewish community owned land adjacent to the House of Israel and by the late 1950s, many members of the community (over 900 families at this point) were desperate for a modern orthodox synagogue. The House of Jacob was still serving the Jewish community, but it was an orthodox congregation where men and women sat separately. Many people in the community wanted a modern orthodox synagogue where some changes included men and women, and therefore families, being able to sit together.
Calgary lawyer, theatre impresario, philanthropist and developer J.B. Barron, who had built the Barron Building and Uptown Theatre that anchored the oil industry in Calgary, and brothers Leo, Harry and Benjamin Sheftel played leading roles in raising money and building the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue. On April 12, 1959, J.B. Barron broke ground and lay the cornerstone for what in less than 6 months would be the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue. Facing 17th Avenue and located at 103 – 17th Avenue SE, the building was connected to the House of Israel Jewish Community Centre, which faced 18th Avenue SE.
What does Shaarey Tzedec mean? Shaarey means gates.
Tzedec (justice). The name is in reference to Judaism’s highest ideal: Deuteronomy 16:18-20 “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Why is “justice” repeated? Isn’t it enough to say it once? The Talmud suggests there are, in fact, two types of justice: strict law, and compromise.
Shaarey Tzedec. Gates of Justice.
The Shaarey Tzedec Architectural Character and Importance
Completed in 1959, the City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation (approved on April 12, 2012 by the Calgary Heritage Authority [exactly 53 years to the day of JB Barron breaking ground] and included in the submission materials), has stated, “the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is highly valued as a symbol of the strength and perseverance of the Jewish community to establish the first synagogue built since the House of Jacob was constructed. (Symbolic value is of city-wide significance)
The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue also has institutional value for its association to the Shaarey Tzedec Congregation Society, who spearheaded development and owned the synagogue for over 30 years. The congregation was one of the earliest Jewish organizations in the city. (Institutional value is of city-wide significance)
The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is further valued for its design as an integrated complex that reflects the interaction of Jewish spirituality and community. The complex was designed as a multi-purpose space, integrating the sanctuary with recreational and community spaces and meeting rooms. (Design value is of city-wide significance)
The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is also significant for its stunning and dynamic Modern-style architecture. The sanctuary displays an interest in the value of structure and skin, articulated through its exposed steel structural system supporting a shallow-pitched butterfly roof. (Style value is of city-wide significance)”
Description of the Historic Place
The City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is an exquisite Modern-style building comprising three connected rectangular masses of different sizes to form a sanctuary, foyer and office area. The sanctuary has a butterfly roof, exposed structural steel frame and blonde, stacked-bond, brick-clad walls. The front façade of the sanctuary displays recessed coloured glass curtain walls on the southeast and northeast sides of the building and undulating clerestory windows shielded by a floating blonde brick wall; a steel-frame hood with undulating roofline marks the building’s main entrance. The property is located in a mixed commercial and multi-unit residential area.”
What the City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation fails to recognize is that the building is turning away from the street on purpose. For centuries in Europe synagogues were unassuming, almost incognito buildings, to hide from the virulent anti-Semitism those tendencies have remained in the religion. Further, the building is inward looking to reflect the inward nature of the religion.
This is a Jewish building in its every essence. And its essence is in stark contrast to its neighbor, St. Mary’s Cathedral, which reflects the expansive and triumphal nature of Catholicism.
This is a Jewish building located in a Catholic District.
Heritage Value of the Historic Place
The building is composed of three rectangular masses of different sizes.
I will venture to say these three rectangular masses symbolize the three purposes of a synagogue: a Beit Midrash (House of Study), Beit Tfila (House of Prayer) and Beit Knesset (House of Assembly). But it is this last purpose, the Beit Knesset, which is the essence of a synagogue. The word “synagogue” comes from the Greek word meaning assembly. Synagogues are about community.
The sanctuary, the largest of the three masses, seats 600 in stationary benches. In accordance to Jewish religious customs, the sanctuary faces east (towards Jerusalem) to the bema (the reader’s platform), which contains the Ark of the Covenant, and forms the focal point from which the service is conducted.
A full-height basement, with six-meter ceilings allows for a convertible space for religious and community functions as well as enough height for recreation and sports.
The building was designed by prominent Calgary-based engineering and architectural firm, Abugov & Sunderland.
The interior space of the building is warm and thoughtfully detailed with wood paneled walls, travertine flooring and brass hardware and lighting. The sanctuary, clad in sections of vertical wooden-paneling, is a voluminous, simply detailed and an introspective space. Corner windows illuminate the bema to create an aura around that space. A gently bowed floating roof controls the infiltration of light into the space and stunning large brass suspended lights hang from the ceiling.
- my favorite is the open pergola, most wouldn’t recognize that this is a tent, a chuppah, a wedding canopy. A chuppah represents a Jewish home. A chuppah is open on all four sides to represent hospitality, a direct reference to Isaiah 54:2 “to enlarge the site of your tent,” to remind us to welcome guests into our home, into our community.
The City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is in remarkably original condition in both the interior and exterior spaces.”
What is missing from the Historic Evaluation is the recognition that this is one of only two Jewish buildings in a historic Catholic neighborhood. Also, it is the ONLY Mid Century Modern Synagogue that has survived in Calgary today. No other synagogue from this time or this architectural period exists in any other neighborhood in Calgary, and perhaps even southern Alberta.
I will venture to say this building is probably of a province-wide significance as the Jewish communities in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Drumheller, Rumsey, Trochu, Pine Lake and of course, Sibbald have now disappeared.
Into this milieu comes a 48 unit condo development with retail and consumer services, which when narrowly considered is the kind of development the city has been encouraging developers to build. Except, only it completely disregards what is on the site currently.
The City review process included a “CPAG Team” consisting of planning, urban development, transportation and parks. It does not appear that the heritage team was ever consulted. Instead, the conditions of approval state:
Number 2 under Planning:
Administration has identified the existing building on the site to be of a Historic Calgary Resource. The subject building has been identified by Heritage as meriting some form of recognition in the new development, in the form of an interpretive plaque. This plaque is to recognize the existing building (Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue) and its contribution to the City’s historic archives. The applicants are highly encouraged to examine the interpretive plaque as provided by at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre as an example of the form of plaque to be dedicated.
In the 1960s and 70s Calgarians tore down many gorgeous and important buildings without understanding their value. To the eyes of that generation those buildings were old, they represented urban blight and they believed that the only way to achieve cleanliness, order, renewal and utopia was by tearing them down and building new. This way we, the future generations, have been denied many historic buildings that would have contributed to an evolution of a sophisticated urban environment.
If the Shaarey Tzedec will be demolished it will be dead to future generations. No plaque will ever be able to tell the story of this time, these people, this religion, these traditions. This building will only be able to tell its many layers of history, if it will be allowed to live. Future generations, with their tastes and sensibilities that are unknown to us, will lament this building’s loss.
With the Shaarey Tzedec issue, we are standing at the edge of what is about to turn into Calgary’s very own Architectural Hurricane Sandy, as process was not followed and heritage planners with the City of Calgary were not consulted on this development. Allowing this development to proceed while disregarding the importance of the Shaarey Tzedec site and discarding the heritage process, will set a devastating precedent for heritage preservation and for the creation of a historic fabric.
Mid Century Modern is the Next Heritage Period [an article from the Calgary Public Library is included in the submission materials]. Calgary architect Tomasz Sztuk in a recent Avenue Magazine article discussed some of Calgary’s greatest buildings that have gone unnoticed. Sztuk states about the Shaarey Tzedec, “There is a complexity that is appreciated only when you start looking.”
It is a complexity or a sophistication that we have not yet learned to appreciate in Calgary. There is in architecture a term called the “black spot,” where we place a low value on a particular architectural style just before it gains its highest value.
I have included in the submission materials photographs of a gorgeous Mid Century Modern synagogue, also called the Shaare-Zedek, in St. Louis, Missouri. The example you see is a Mid Century building with an Art Deco influence. Our Shaarey Tzedec was built slightly later than this example, so it’s in a full-blown Moderne period. Notice the similarities of the sanctuary, the warm, wood paneled walls, the stunning brass and wooden chandeliers.
I hate to say this, but we the Jewish people are the Panda bears of the human world. Our population is shrinking. In 1911, when the original House of Jacob was built the Jewish community represented 1.4% of Calgary’s population. Today, 100 years later we represent 0.7% of the population. With our tiny size, we find it increasingly difficult to sustain our organizations.
With the drifting of the community south, in 1991, the Shaarey Tzedec Congregation made the decision to sell the building to the Centre for Spiritual Living, which gained it a new life as a church.
I have included in the submission materials examples of adaptive reuse.
One article discusses the potential of churches being reused.
I’ve included a photo of the Former Mickveh Yisrael Synagogue and Hebrew School in Melbourne used as a bar and food establishment.
Another photo is a synagogue in Budapest that has been converted to apartments.
Another photo is of a 1915 synagogue in Seattle that the City of Seattle purchased and is now used as a performing arts centre.
Another photo is of a synagogue in New York City that has also been an underwear factory, shower-curtain factory, a Chinese laundry, and a fabric store. It is currently used as a private residence.
And let’s not forget our very own House of Israel that was converted to some very desirable townhouses.
These creative adaptive reuse examples could only have been achieved by allowing the building to live.
The current development plans although having met many of the City’s rules have fallen short on many Mission ARP goals, principals and policies.
Development Contrary to the Stated Goals of the Mission Area Redevelopment Plan
The goals of the Mission Area Redevelopment Plan are:
1. (Goal 1) To ensure that existing and new development contributes to the enhancement of Mission as a unique, safe, vibrant and livable inner-city community;
2. (Goal 2) To establish a policy framework for sensitively managing growth and change within the context provided by the Municipal Development Plan (The Calgary Plan) while maintaining and protecting the special historical character of the community;
3. (Goal 3) To encourage a variety of dwelling types that support a diverse population mix and variety of income levels, as well as special needs groups;
4. (Goal 5) To encourage new residential and commercial development to be compatible with the special character of Mission;
5. (Goal 6) To recognize and protect where possible, the historical significance of the community;
Development Contrary to Guiding Principles of Smart Growth
(Principal 5) Promote distinctive, attractive communities with strong identities by taking advantage of features that make an area special, like heritage buildings, unique shopping streets or appealing open spaces.
(Principal 7) Encourage growth in existing communities by finding ways for new development to fit in with the older neighborhood.
(Principal 9) Encourage citizen participation in development decisions.
Development Contrary 4.3 Policy
1. The City of Calgary encourages the preservation of buildings included on the Inventory of Potential Heritage Sites.
2. Adaptive re-use of historically significant sites and structures is encouraged.
3. Additions, renovations and significant alterations to identified potential historic sites should be of a nature and quality that complement the existing character of Mission.
4. Promote public awareness of historic sites in Mission.
1. The Approving Authority should use incentives, including voluntary density transfers approved in the Heritage Management Program Policies and Procedures, which encourage the adaptive reuse of historic residential, commercial and institutional sites that are on the City’s Inventory.
2. Owners of potential historic sites are encouraged to investigate use of the Heritage Incentive
3. Owners are encouraged to use the density transfer system as approved by City Council in the
Heritage Management Program Policies and Procedures (1983).
Development Contrary to 13.0 ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS
The ARP focuses on:
Encouraging conservation and adaptive reuse of older housing stock and buildings of heritage merit.
I respectfully request that the SDAB act as a conduit for a thoughtful decision to take place given the importance of the heritage asset at stake.
The House of Jacob, Calgary’s first synagogue, was demolished in 1968. A generation later, the city’s oldest surviving synagogue, the Shaarery Tzedec, is facing the same fate. This site is absolutely critical to Calgary’s, and Alberta’s, historic and heritage fabric and I respectfully request that the SDAB either deny the permit or direct the proposal to the City of Calgary heritage planners for their review and comment. Such a heritage review will provide time for a mutually beneficial decision to take place. Thank you.
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