Monday, December 29, 2008

It's been a while..

I realize that it's been a while since any of us last posted, but we've entered one of the slow times of the renovation process. We are currently waiting to schedule the grouting; hopefully, it will take place in early January. As soon as we have more to report, we will certainly do so. In the meantime, we hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and have a safe and healthy new year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Into the Void

Apologies for making a blog post almost solely about myself. But today, I went into The Void. At least part of me did. The archaeologists decided that they needed better pictures and better (non-Blair Witch style) video. I immediately volunteered. Unfortunately, the opening is somewhat awkward, so it was nearly impossible to angle myself well enough to take good shots, but the archaeologists were happy. As soon as I get copies of the pictures of the interior that I took, I'll post them. In the meantime, here's what we went through today.

Just to refresh your memory, this is what the entrance to The Void looks like. We did break away two more bricks, just to give me a little more wiggle room.

Me, getting ready to go into the cistern.

Testing the set up and making sure that both the camera and I will fit into the opening.

Me, halfway in the hole, with Peter Middleton sitting on my legs in lieu of a rope.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Front Doors Faux Graining

According to Betsy Greene of Betsy Greene Decorative Painting, the front doors of Lloyd Street Synagogue are probably pine. They would have been originally grained to resemble a more expensive wood like oak. Because of this, the doors are now receiving a makeover to return them to the faux graining they had in the 19th century. Since I've been at the JMM, they have been painted white, so it came as a bit of a shock to see them changed.

The doors first received a base coat of a pale yellow. (see top part of the door)

Next, the doors receive a layer of glaze that is combed to resemble the pore structure of oak. (see bottom part of the door).

The doors are then hand-painted to resemble figure graining. The paint is waterbased oil paint mixed with glazing liquid. The work is combed to break up the lines.

Next is the toning layer. Subtle nuances are given to each board to create variation.

Finally, the doors are clear coated with spar varnish, which protects them from the sun and elements. This is the same kind of varnish used on boats and other outside objects.

The Void is Drained!

Recently, archaeologists at the Lloyd Street Synagogue uncovered a mysterious cistern in the southeast corner of the building. We believe that this may have been the cistern used by the synagogue's mikvah. This video shows the water being drained from it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Once Upon a Time Photos: 10.31.08

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. Click here to see the most recent photo on their website. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or

Date(s) run in Baltimore Jewish Times: 10/31/08

PastPerfect Accession #: 1985.159.032

Status: Identified! Sponsors Dinner to dedicate Study Hall at Talmudical Academy of Baltimore in honor of Governor Theodore R. McKeldin at Governor's Mansion in Annapolis, July 8, 1957. L-R: 1. Paul Huddles 2. Robert Stofberg 3.Rabbi Albert Pattaschnick 4.Judge Edgar Silver 5. Albert A. Sugar 6. Mrs. McKeldin 7. Governor McKeldin 8. Mayor Philip Goodman 9. ? Rosenbaum or Alvin Cohen 10. Solomon Rogers 11. Rabbi Hirsch Heiman

Thanks to Babette Goldschmidt, Selma Frank, Stan Heyman, Mark Rosenfield, Phil Shapiro, Jane Kaufman, Jerry Shavrick, Rina Levy, Judge Edgar Silver, Jerry Esterson, Gloria Kolker Hack, Andrew Cohen, Marian Block, Gordon Salganik, Sheila Manson, Marilyn Silverstein, Rabbi Moses Shevalsky, Edna Hendler, Barbara Ravitz, Carl Kupfer, and Robin I. Cushner

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Picture Post

I will wait to speak about the nature of The Void until I have a final (or at least more conclusive) report. However, since we spent significant amount of time in the archaeology pit yesterday, I wanted to go ahead and post pictures.

The crevice that leads into The Void.

Close-up of crevice. Notice that there is 4'+ of water in the bottom of The Void.

Curatorial Assistant Jennifer Vess in the archaeology pit.

Project Manager Lacy LeBlanc in the archaeology pit.

Ceiling and side of The Void.

Brick siding near the top of The Void.

The camera screen that allowed the archaeologists and plumbers to watch the feed from The Void in real time.

Lacy lowering the camera into The Void.

Watching the live feed from the camera.

The pump.

Archaeologist Esther Read widening the hole so that the pump could be lowered into the water.

The pump is in the water.

Almost empty!

The bottom of The Void.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On Friday, John Srygley, Preservation Architect, Esther Read and Peter Middleton, archaeologists, Michael Walkley, P.E., and Charlie Hall and Beth Schminke, representatives from MHT, met to discuss the cistern/void recently discovered under the SE corner of the LSS. Here's what John had to say about the meeting:

"We're not sure at this time what we're looking at, i.e.., a cistern, a dry well, or ?; Esther and Garry [Stone, Architectural Historian] will be sharing their thoughts on this. From the photos the structure appears to be cylindrical, which I measured at 3'-6' in diameter. It is about 8' deep, with four feet of standing water; the walls appear to be dry laid brick. It is unclear how the LSS foundation spans the hole; presumably there is a large stone [lentel]. Note that the photos [see below] are the only visual we have at this time, since the location directly under the foundation does not currently allow enough room to fit one's head down to get a good look!


Note that the cistern may be the principal cause of the settlement and stresses at this corner, but there are several other suspected influences, and the dramatic subsidence in this area is likely a consequence of the compounded influence of several or all factors including (1) the broken sanitary line dating from @ 1900, (2) the 8" sanitary line installed about 1960, (3) that a portion of the south wall rests on fragments of the brick wall of the mikvah house."

Once we have had a chance to investigate the interior of the cistern, we will discuss the best way to proceed with the grout injection that will stabilize the SE corner of the LSS. Since the cistern appears to be dry-laid, there is a fairly good chance that the pressure grouting which had been planned will not be an option in the area around the cistern. The high pressure aspect of pressure grouting could potentially damage the cistern and the surrounding area, and as with every aspect of this project, we will not proceed until the best options have been determined and agreed upon by our various historic and preservation specialists.

The 1" x 6" hole at the bottom of the pit that led to the discovery of the cistern.

The interior of the cistern - at least as much of it as we can currently see.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Of Cisterns and Synagogues

Just when the archaeologists thought they were wrapping up the outside dig, they uncovered a fissure in the bottom of the pit. It is a crack, approximately six inches long by an inch wide, in a layer of granite blocks covering "a void beneath the unit floor," according to archaeologist, Esther Read. Peter Middleton, the project lead, first tried to measure the depth with a six-foot measuring stick, but he was unable to reach the bottom of the hole. After attaching two measuring sticks together, he reached a depth of eight feet and encountered three to four feet of water before hitting a layer of silt. As of yet, the depth and volume have not been determined.

We do, however, have an idea about its purpose. During her first dig onsite (1999 - 2001), Esther speculated that there would be a cistern associated with the original mikveh. Because of the location of the "void," we know that it pre-dates the expansion of the synagogue, which puts it in the correct time frame for Esther's original speculation.

What does that mean for the renovation/restoration process? Well, immediately, it means more meetings. Over the next week, both the archaeology and grout injection will be put on hold until we can meet with the archaeologists, historic building specialists, and representatives from the Maryland Historical Trust. The long-term results remain to be seen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Playing in the Dirt

As previously mentioned, the LSS has been hosting a team of archaeologists for the past several weeks. The digging has moved from the SE interior hallway (between the Beit Midrash and the mikvaot) to the SE exterior corner. Although no small artifacts have been found up to this point, the archaeologists have uncovered a substantial portion of the east wall of the building that stood on the property before the LSS was expanded in 1860. The surrounding area is much less disturbed than was the area inside, so we have a much better chance of finding something interesting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cleaning the LSS

Last Friday, the LSS received a long-overdue cleaning - just in time to make its own fresh start for Rosh Hashanah. A team of volunteers, interns, and JMM staffers all pitched in to make the inside of the LSS as impressive as the outside. Earlier this year, Lacy LeBlanc worked with Matthew Mosca, historic paint and finishes expert, to determine the right cleaning plan to ensure the preservation of the historic finishes on the wood surfaces of the main sanctuary. After testing several different cleaning solutions* on the most sun-damaged pews, it was determined that a 2% solution of Murphy's Oil Soap and water was the proper choice for the LSS. Each pew was dry-wiped with a microfiber cloth, then lightly sprayed with the Murphy's Oil solution and wiped down by hand. The next steps in the cleaning process will be cleaning the pew cushions and mopping the floors - stay tuned for volunteer opportunities!

*Cleaning solutions tested are as follows:
1) 2% solution of Murphy's Oil Soap and distilled water
2) 2% solution of Simple Green and distilled water
3) 2% solution of Fantastik and distilled water
4) 2% solution of Vulpex and distilled water
5) 2% solution of Vulpex and mineral spirits

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What a difference a day makes!

Admittedly, it was two days, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it. The LSS now has its requisite two coats of Keim and should be good to go (without a recoat!)for at least the next 50 years. Currently, the iron gates are getting a fresh coat of dark grey paint, and the next step will be to paint the front doors to resemble grained oak.

This was the LSS on Tuesday.

And this is today.

Artifacts in the Fridge?

This week, the LSS is hosting a team of archaeologists. Part of our restoration plans include injecting grout (effectively liquid cement) under the settling SE corner of the building. Once the grout hardens, we will be unable to do further archaeological research in that area of the building, so we want to make sure we don't miss anything. In the course of their investigations, the archaeologists discovered several scraps of paper, thought to be from either a prayer book or Yiddish newspaper, and a scrap of leather, thought to be from tefillin straps.

According to The New Museum Registration Methods, the primary sources of damage to historic artifacts come form light, heat, humidity, and infestation. What could you use to store artifacts in a pinch? The fridge! So, I sent out one of the strangest emails in my life, notifying the rest of the staff that we were now storing historic artifacts in the vegetable crisper.

Luckily, the objects did not have to stay there long. They are now safely stored in the coldest office in our building, awaiting further examination. (Many thanks to Deb Weiner for volunteering her office.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

From the desk of Avi Decter

In recent weeks, visitors to Lloyd Street will have noticed that the exterior of the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845; enlarged 1860) is changing its appearance. Since the building has looked pretty much the same since 1964, many observers will want to know why its "colonial" brick and white trim is undergoing significant alteration.

Over its entire history of occupation and use as a house of worship (1845-c.1960), the LSS's brick body (as well as the exterior woodwork) was painted. The color schemes changed substantially over the decades, in keeping with changing fashion and taste and with the means of the several congregations who worshipped there.

At its dedication in 1845, the portico and the brick body of the building were painted "one uniform stone tint" (Isaac Leeser in The Israelite). When the building was expanded in 1860, the color of the portico and the brickwork was painted a pinkish-beige-grey (taupe) color; the window frames, window sash, and door frames were painted a dark brown, resembling brownstone; and the front doors were painted (grained) to resemble dark oak. This color scheme is documented in an 1864 photograph now in the JMM collection and substantiated by historic paint analysis.

In later periods, the exterior colors varied widely, and by 1958, the brick body was painted brick-red with white painted lines to simulate mortar lines - a paint scheme, in other words, designed to look like the underlying brick body! In 1963 - 64, the brick exterior was sandblasted, removing all the prior coats of historic paint (save for a few surviving fragments) - and destroying the glaze finish on the brickwork, as well.

In researching and planning for preservation work at the LSS, the JMM and its team of consultants (including a preservation architect, architectural historian, and historic paint analyst) have concluded that the best documented and most appropriate exterior color scheme, both from interpretive and preservation perspectives, would be to restore the exterior color scheme of the 1860s. This will comport well with the color scheme of the main sanctuary, which has been returned to c. 1871.

The change in exterior appearance may be startling to some observers, but its appearance in the past 44 years was a finish scheme that never was used throughout the building's 116 years as an active house of worship. The new color scheme now in progress will offer thousands of annual visitors a more authentic, accurate impression of a great Maryland landmark. Our decision, along with the historical documentation to support it, will be included in our interpretive tours and signage.

Painting the LSS

I just received notice that our painting company, Eastwood Painters, will be meeting with a representative from the Keim company on Thursday, Agust 21. Keim has been used extensively in Europe since at least the 19th century, but it is only recently that it has become known in the United States. Whereas normal paints merely coat the surface of objects, Keim actually forms a chemical bond with masonry surfaces. This chemical bond means that the paint will last for decades - possibly even centuries - without needing a fresh coat or touch ups to maintain its original color. We are very excited to be using this outstanding product on the LSS!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's with all this scaffolding?

“The Jewish Museum of Maryland formally requests [Maryland Historic] Trust approval to restore the c. 1864 exterior color scheme and finishes of the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS). The structure that we see today from the outside of the building dates to 1860; the present exterior colors and finishes, however, date mostly to 1963-65, when the building was restored by the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland.” – Avi Decter, Museum Director


Through extensive archaeological and archival research, we have discovered that appearance of the LSS has gone through extensive changes – almost from the very moment it was completed. “Throughout its history of occupancy and use by three successive immigrant congregations, 1845-1963, all or portions of the LSS’s brick exterior was painted; color schemes on the portico and stationary woodwork varied tremendously; the main (west) doors were grained repeatedly; and the stone foundation walls were at one point covered in stucco, colored and scored to resemble ashlar. In short, the LSS exterior as we see it today is neither accurate nor authentic to any of this landmark’s periods of historical or architectural significance!” (Decter).

During the restoration of the 1960s, the building was stripped of paint, sand blasted, cleaned, and repainted to what was assumed to be the original appearance. Very little of the original paintwork remained, but through the work of many professionals, including Garry Wheeler Stone, architectural historian, John Srygley, preservation architect, and Matthew Mosca, historic paint consultant, we have discovered many traces of the congregations that once occupied the LSS.

Since beginning archaeological investigations in the late 1990s, we have discovered many heretofore unknown attributes of the building, including the original mikveh, beautiful frescos, a matzah oven, and the base of what was probably a steeple. With the generous help from the City of Baltimore, State of Maryland, and the Federal Save America’s Treasures program, the JMM plans to launch an intensive and extensive restoration project that will return the LSS to its circa 1864 appearance. We are currently in the first phase of the restoration, which includes exterior painting, masonry repair, wood and window repair, and roof replacement. The finished building will feature brownstone-colored wood work, grained oak-colored doors, and a “light stone”-colored brick body.

The LSS was the first synagogue to be built in Maryland, and it is the third oldest surviving synagogue in the United States. It has a rich and colorful history that has, up until this point, been mostly hidden from public view. It is our goal to give that rich and colorful history new life, thereby exposing Baltimore’s vibrant Jewish culture to a new generation before it passes from living memory. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2009 or early 2010 – just in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Monday, August 11, 2008

So it begins...

Renovation to LSS began in early June as crews began scaffolding and stripping the paint from all the surfaces of the building.

Pre-Restoration Lloyd Street Synagogue

This is how Lloyd Street Synagogue has appeared since the 1960s.

Image courtesy of Caruso Studios.

This is how Lloyd Street Synagogue appeared in 1864. This is the oldest known image of the building, when it was still operated by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

"Carte-de-visite" of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, circa 1864.
Photo courtesy of the Ross J. Kelbaugh Collection.

This is the interior of LSS as it appears currently.