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Sherith Israel Synagogue


By Allyson Jacob · March 17th, 2004 · Where Are They Now?

Then: In 1997, CityBeat reported on a controversy surrounding the site of a former synagogue downtown. The building was deemed "the oldest synagogue west of the Allegheny Mountains," and, though the building itself had long since been gutted, a panel of local folk wanted to keep what was left of it and designate it a historic space. Developers favored demolishing the building and using the space to add to the success of the "Backstage" area already in development across from the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

(Issue of Feb. 27, 1997)

Now: The conversion of 637 Walnut St. has led the way to more development of downtown living spaces. The building that once housed the Sherith Israel Synagogue wasn't torn down and in fact now houses tenants in a series of loft condominiums. Six of the condos are in the Gibson building on Walnut Street, and the synagogue behind it houses two others.

Developed by Glenn Kukla of Middle Earth Inc., about the only thing that remains of the synagogue are the exterior brick walls. The walls at one point in time were plastered over, and Kukla was able to strip the plaster and restore the brick for two of the four walls. Heavy wooden beams, which at one time were used for support in the synagogue, still line the ceiling of the upper level of the lofts, and Kukla explains that now the beams are simply decoration.

To look at the condos, you'd never know that the living spaces -- acquired in 2001 from Joseph Sandler -- had once housed a synagogue, a plumbing warehouse, an electrical store, a popcorn shop and a Penn Station restaurant. The structure is completely modern throughout, from the stairs that link the two floors of the loft to the open floor plan to the simple and elegant decor.

The loft conversion is just the latest in a series of "vertical subdivisions" being developed throughout downtown. Kukla says he and other developers are taking advantage of "market forces and demographics" to renovate spaces within the city and attract owners.

"After all," he says, explaining what's happening in his latest project at 26 E. Sixth St., "downtown is the best place to live."

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