During Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017, the modernist Beth Yeshurun Synagogue in Houston, Texas flooded. The synagogue’s Barg Sanctuary suffered the most damage, accumulating up to four feet of standing water in its downward sloping east end. In response, the congregation began immediate remediation and restoration work. MHA Houston consulted on the state historic tax credits that were utilized to help offset the unexpected rehabilitation costs. MHA also worked to help preserve the synagogue’s significant historic and architectural features.
Completed in 1962, the Beth Yeshurun Synagogue of Houston, Texas was designed by architects Eugene Werlin and Lenard Gabert, Sr. to meet the religious, educational, administrative, and social needs of the congregation’s more than 1,500 families. At that time, the 80,000 square foot synagogue was one of the largest religious buildings in the South.
Currently, Beth Yeshurun is the oldest continually active Conservative Jewish congregation in Texas. It is also the largest Conservative Jewish congregation in the United States and second largest in the world. Nationally prominent in the Jewish Conservative Movement, Beth Yeshurun was a leader in advancing women’s ritual rights, and in 1954 established the then only Synagogue affiliated and operated Day School in the United States.
The modernist building’s exterior is clad in red brick with a folded plate roof defining nine prowed bays featuring stained glass and a redwood facia. The central bay, and main entrance, features alternating panels of abstract stained and clear glass in a gold adonized aluminum frame, flanked by marble panels. The roof overhang features a Star of David cut out at each end.
Significant interior finishes include high ceilings, stained glass windows, unpainted brick walls, terrazzo flooring, and white marble details in the lobby. The walls above the entry doors are walnut with marble tablets on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed in Hebrew. Within the sanctuary, historic fabric includes a 26-foot-high stained glass depicting the burning bush, two large mosaics, and an eternal light designed by renowned Israeli artist and designer D.H. Gumbel.
Due to the flood-remediation nature of the project, repair of the property concentrated on restoring or replacing damaged materials in-kind. In the Greenfield Chapel, the existing seats were retained, stripped, and refinished. All seats were upholstered with fabric closely matching the original and efforts were made to replicate the original section configurations and row/seat arrangements.
Other in-kind restoration work included the refurbishment and replacement of historic exterior and interior doors. The ca. 1962 historic, aluminum and glass entry doors featuring linear, decorative pulls on the north façade of the main building were able to be repaired. Eight pairs of the original interior solid-core wood doors were all retained, sensitively stripped, and refinished.
In 2019, Beth Yeshurun became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, Texas Historical Commission’s state marker program for architecturally and historically significant properties in Texas.
Preservation Houston | 2021 Good Brick Award
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