Friday, February 7, 2020

Rediscovering Syracuse Architect James D. Meehan



Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Post-Standard (Sept. 7, 1910).
Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Photo:Google Streets 2020.

Rediscovering Syracuse Architect James D. Meehan
by Samuel D. Gruber

Since I became president of the Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York in 2018, I've tried to expand the inventory of Arts & Crafts influenced architecture in Syracuse and the region and to identify more of the architects and designers who were influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement in their work. Thanks to research of Cleota Reed and others we know quite a lot about the life and work of Ward Wellington Ward, but after Ward, the list of local Arts & Crafts practitioners is very small despite the fact the Arts & Crafts-inspired houses are sprinkled in almost every city neighborhood and beyond. Last year we were able to revive knowledge of architects Harry Phoenix, G. Everett Quick, and Francis J. Worth, all of whom designed some Arts & Crafts influenced houses, including bungalows. I am happy to add James D. Meehan to the list.


Advertisement from 1910 which ran frequently that year in the Real Estate section of the Post-Standard.
Meehan was a very active architect in Syracuse from around 1910 at least through 1949. He worked in both Arts & Crafts-inspired and classical styles. At present we have little biographical information, other than occasional newspaper and architectural magazine notices, so maybe someone who reads this blog will be able to supply more. 

Meehan seems to have been very busy by 1910, when two examples of his work were illustrated in different issues of the Post-Standard, and other projects were mentioned. The illustrated notices show two different sides of the architect, and both houses still survive, though one was radically altered around 2009. Meehan advertised regularly in the newspaper, so probably the coverage of his work either was a result of the advertising, or vice-versa.

One of the 1910 houses remains much as it was when built. It's a good example of local Arts & Crafts style, with variegated roofs, a clipped gable, and a mix of materials; brick, cast block, wood and stucco. This is contemporary with similar early work of Ward Wellington Ward.

We know that many of the active Syracuse architects in the early part of the 20th century, and especially the younger generation, were academically trained, and thus were comfortable working in a number of styles. Even Ward, known for his Arts & Crafts and Tudor-inspired designs also worked in the Colonial style, and was also proficient in commercial and industrial design.

Just a week after the Post-Standard featured Meehan's Arts & Crafts design for 1514 Park Street, the paper featured another Meehan design, this one for a two-family house with a monumental classical portico supporting front porches.  In September 2018, I posted about two-family houses with "robust classicism," focusing mostly on a house on Westcott Street (See: Robust Classicism For Monumental Westcott Flats). In that post I mentioned in passing the once fine two-family home at 519-521 (formerly 511) Euclid Avenue. This has sadly been remodeled, so that the impressive front porches once supported by four columns of monumental Corinthian order are now removed and replaced by a more mundane 2-story arrangement.
  
 
Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Illustration from Post-Standard (Sept. 14, 1910).

Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Photo: SEUNA
Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Facade remodeled ca. 2009. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

The telling newspaper article of September 14, 1910 announcing the Euclid Avenue project identifies the developer, architect, and the builder. The language of the short article tells us quite a bit about the design and appeal two-family houses at this time-but how it was seemingly more prestigious if these two-family houses looked more like opulent (even pretentious) one-family homes. Each apartment was very large and well-appointed. We also learn that by 1910 white was the color for Colonial Revival design.

The house was built by Attorney Thomas Ward. James D. Meehan was the architect and Bixby & Co. were the contractors. The 1901 illustration places the house on a flat site, when in fact, there is a considerable rise from the Euclid Avenue sidewalk. Similarly the drawing shows the house with an ample driveway to a large carriage house in the rear, when in fact the house is on a narrow lot with no driveway and there is no sign of an associated rear service building.

From Post-Standard (Sept. 14, 1910):
The building will be of frame construction and will be a pretentious as the most costly one-family house, which will be the effect conveyed by the design. When completed, the exterior will be painted white in order to more fully carry out the Colonial style of architecture.
The apartments, which will be entirely separate, will each contain a large living room, parlor, dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, refrigerator room and three sleeping rooms and a bath. There will be massive brick fireplaces in the living rooms.

The main rooms will be finished in white enamel with mahogany stained doors. The other rooms will be finished in red oak. The floors will be of oak and birch.

The lot is 40 x 130 feet.
The classicism of the design was certainly the most popular style for public buildings at the time. We see this in the design for the Temple Society of Concord put forward by Alfred Taylor and Arnold W. Brunner, for which the cornerstone was also laid in September 1910. (That building, whose future is uncertain, was the subject of a public hearing at the Syracuse Landmarks Preservation Board on February 6, 2020).

Syracuse, NY. Presentation drawing of planned Temple Concord. The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y. (Sept. 19, 1910)
Giving a "Colonial" twist was popular for houses, too. In 1910 Meehan was also responsible for an apartment house with six units on Chemung Street, and a one-family house on Danforth Street. These buildings still need to be identified and we don't know in what style they we designed.

Meehan remained an active residential and commercial architect in Syracuse at least through the 1940s. He built a warehouse on Park Street west of Hiawatha Boulevard (demolished) in 1946, and then designed the Pontiac showroom and service center known as the Illington-Bailey Building, one of the first projects built after World War II. That building was built around a series of systems used for showing off new Pontiac automobiles, but also for the safe and efficient servicing of cars. Design and construction required ingenuity because of continuing shortage of material in the post-war period. The building was later substantially altered with it's large windows reduced in size or blocked, but it still stands at South McBride and East Genesee Street. If the ground floor windows were opened the building could return to life for as retail or exhibition space. An article at the time of the building's opening reports interesting "archaeological," finds on the site, what the paper called "slave cellars," but which sound like some sort of brick and arch sub-surface storage center.

Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Syracuse Post Standard, (January 29, 1949), Page 14
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Google Streetscapes 2020.
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.




Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Central New York's Jewish Sites and Buildings III: Syracuse's Former Temple Beth El

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Nicholas Goffredo, architect, 1965. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Opened 196, closed 2007. Photo:Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Opened 1965, closed 2007. Photo:Samuel D. Gruber 2007.

Central New York's Jewish Sites and Buildings III:  
Syracuse's Former Temple Beth El
by Samuel D. Gruber

Continuing our survey of CNY's Jewish sites and buildings, we turn to the former Temple Beth El, built as a new synagogue on East Genesee Street and dedicated on September 11, 1965. the synagogue closed in 2007 and the building now serves a Slavic Full Gospel Church.

As I wrote in previous posts, the synagogue was founded as the result of a merger of The Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Poiley Tzedeck. These congregations were joined in 1974 by Congregation Anshe Sfard.


I was invited by the late Marty Miller to photograph the synagogue in 2007 before it closed, and before many of its furnishings were dispersed and parts of the stained glass windows of the sanctuary removed and reinstalled in the Beth El memorial Room at Menorah Park.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Nicholas Goffredo, architect, 1965. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
The construction of Beth El was remarkable for several reasons. First, when it was built it was the furthest east of all the Syracuse Jewish institutions. Synagogues and the new Jewish Community Center were all clustered on East Genesee Street just east of Westcott Street. Beth El leapfrogged this new Jewish enclave and in so doing began the resettlement of the Jewish community in Dewitt and beyond. Though the congregation soon affiliated with Conservative Judiasm, many members were still traditionally observant and preferred to walk to synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, and thus Jewish settlement in the immediate adjacent neighborhoods increased dramaticall.

Nottingham High School was located nearby and attracted large numbers of Jewish students from the Westcott, Salt Springs, Scottholm, and Meadowbrook neighborhoods. Beth El was also shockingly new in that it was only the second local synagogue to build in an entirely modern style. It was preceded by a few years by the much smaller Orthodox Young Israel congregation at East Genesee and Fellows Avenue. Temple Beth Israel and Young Israel had carried out discussions about merging in in the early 1950s, but these fell through in 1954, leading to each congregation setting out to build a new home.

After Beth Israel's merger with Poiley Tzedeck, Ben Paikin, was head of the building committee of the new Beth El. He chose local architect Nicholas Goffredo to design the building on the generous lot. The building was expanded to the south around 1985, and Allen Kosoff was the architect. The resulting building spreads out horizontally with a footprint that came to include the sanctuary facing East Genesee, but also a large religious school, and other faculties including social hall, kitchen, library and various meeting rooms.

The original 1960s design consisted of interconnected rectangular blocks, all longer than high, so that the horizontality of the building is emphasized, but also that there is a hierarchy of connected spaces. Since many congregants were expected to walk to services, the rear parking areas was amble enough for staff and weekday visitors, but not nearly large enough to accommodate ht entire congregation. From the start the exterior of the building was noteworthy for the application of relief plaques on the east wall representing the twelve tribes of Israel. These are quite striking, and among the most impressive expressions of Judaism in local public art.

The reliefs are on the exterior of the sanctuary's Ark wall, overlooking a narrow exit lane from the rear parking lot, and thus not well suited for exterior viewing. But the grid-like arrangement of the reliefs is echoed in the pattern of the sanctuary windows, which consist of six linked tall rectangular windows on the sanctuary's north and south sides, with the north wall and windows parallel to East Genesee Street.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Cover of Dedication book. Note the original form of the sanctuary windows on the left. Photo of book: Robin Meltzer.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Nicholas Goffredo, architect, 1965. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Nicholas Goffredo, architect, 1965. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.

 
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. East Genesee Street. Nicholas Goffredo, architect, 1965. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Each window was originally divided in six courses of differentiated colored panes, arranged in a staggered design of two and three windows per row. At a later date (1980s?) new stained glass panels with a wealth of Jewish symbols and other references were inserted into the windows. These were removed when the synagogue closed and are now installed in the Beth El Memorial room at the nearby Menorah Park. These windows represent Jewish holidays and significant Bible stories.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary seen through accordian walls from social hall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Ark and bimah. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Ark and Torah scrolls. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Ark and ner tamid (eternal light). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Torah scroll with commemorative mantles, crowns, rimmonim and breastplate (ḥoshen mishpat). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. The new synagogue boasted more comfortable theater style seating. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.


Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Sanctuary view through accordian walls to social hall. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Like any of the new synagogues of the 1960s, the sanctuary opened up onto a larger social hall or ballroom, which could be added to the worship space for the high Holidays or other well-attended occasions. The Wexler-Hyman Social Hall had a dance floor, and stage, and a wall of north-facing windows.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Social Hall/Ballroom. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Social Hall/Ballroom. Viewto stage. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Social Hall/Ballroom. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.

Syracuse, NY Former Temple Beth El. Social Hall/Ballroom. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Kosher kitchens were nearby the ballroom.  The regular Shabbat Kiddush was in the Gordon Room. The Phillips Room, which was separated from the Gordon Room by a moveable partition, was another social room. Beth El also had a very good Jewish Library which was dispersed when the congregation ended.

Temple Beth El maintained a daily minyan throughout all the years of existence. Daily services were held in the chapel, which also served as a Beth Midrash (study room).

Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Ark and Reader's Table. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Small Ark. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Study area. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.
Syracuse, NY. Former Temple Beth El. Daily Chapel/Beth Midrash. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007.