Built for Providence’s oldest Jewish organizations, established in 1854, the Congregation of the Sons of Israel and David (the two names reflecting the reconciliation in 1874 of an earlier rift) occupied several buildings before constructing this, their first new synagogue, in what was then, discussed above, a heavily Jewish neighborhood. The choice of Roman Classicism for this building’s design reflects two strains of attitude toward synagogue design: the desire, on the one hand, to move toward the mainstream of American architecture at a time when thoroughgoing classicism was the lingua franca of the day; and a belief, based on contemporary archaeological investigations in Palestine, that revealed Graeco-Roman forms in early temple design. Banning & Thornton provided the plans for this building, and its interior organization reflected the congregation’s embrace of the turn of the century Reform movement, which integrated families for worship, incorporated music, and placed greater emphasis on interpretation than on the mere reading of the word. In 1954, Temple Beth El moved to a modern synagogue on the East Side, nearer the residences of most of its members. After that congregation’s departure, five small South Providence congregations banded together to form Shaare Zedek, an Orthodox congregation, which continues to worship in this building, having made interior modifications to accommodate Orthodox ritual.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
Listed on the National Register in 1988, the building now referred to as the Broad Street Synagogue was constructed in 1910-11. A low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition attached to the north side of the synagogue was built in 1958.
Over the years, the Jewish population around the synagogue sharply declined. In 2004, the congregation could not get the 10 men required for minyan at Rosh Hashanah. In 2006, the temple was officially closed and “desanctified”. On June 11, 2006, Shaare Zedek merged with Congregation Beth Sholom on Camp Street. As part of the merger, Beth Sholom received ownership of Temple Beth El. The building was first included on the 2010 Most Endangered Properties list because of vacancy and vandalism. It was further damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the theft of copper flashing.
Over the course of three years, a group of students has initiated a number of fundraising efforts to revitalize the building called the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. These committed volunteers partnered with the Rhode Island Historical Society to conduct oral histories with former congregants, and worked with the Providence Revolving Fund to secure funding to stabilize the roof. Unfortunately, a long-term user and plan never materialized to take advantage of that funding. In 2014, contractor Joe Triangelo addressed the building’s most pressing issues, installing a temporary roof and repairing floors and ceilings. He did not install a permanent roof. In 2015, the building was sold again to Carolyn Rafaelian. While she initially had plans to start work in 2015, nothing has been done and the roof is again leaking. Vandalism continues and the copper cornice is slowly disappearing to theft. PPS has kept the building on the MEP list since 2014 because it does not have a stable, permanent roof. Time is running out!
In 2018-2019, PPS commissioned Rhode Island-based artists to create original works of art for four sites included on the 2018 Most Endangered Properties list. David H. Wells, noted filmmaker, examined how other Providence-area former synagogues found new lives, many serving new immigrant populations just as the former Temple Beth El had done at one time. Click the image to view New Lives of some of Rhode Island’s former Synagogues.
+ David Wells’ presentation at the Broad Street Synagogue (April 2019)