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.

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