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.