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.

No comments: