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
Construction on this community landmark began 110 years ago. Sadly, the Broad Street Synagogue continues to suffer from prolonged vacancy, and this year marks its ninth listing on the MEP list. PPS remains optimistic that this important religious building will find new use and new life.
Built by Providence’s oldest Jewish institutions, the synagogue was designed by architects Banning & Thornton and constructed in 1910-11 as the new home of the Congregation of the Sons of Israel and David. Each façade is pedimented and the street-front features two prominent Corinthian columns. The interior of the Classical Revival-style synagogue is dominated by a two-story auditorium that reflects the turn of the century Reform movement, which integrated families for worship. By the mid-20th century, the congregation relocated to the East Side in response to the declining German-Jewish community once prominent in South Providence.
In 1954, the temple was sold to the new Congregation of Shaare Zedek, and a low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition was added to the north. The architect was Harry Marshak, who also designed a place of worship for the Congregation Sons of Jacob in Smith Hill— 24 Douglas Avenue, a 2016 MEP. Ensuing years of Jewish population decline in Elmwood led to the official closure of the synagogue in 2006. Temple Beth-El was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
By 2012, a group of artists, educators, and residents formed the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. This volunteer group initiated a number of advocacy and fundraising efforts to revitalize the building; unfortunately, they became inactive in 2014. The building sold in 2015 and the owner rehabilitated the interior and installed a temporary roof. The building sold again in 2016, and no work has taken place since. The temporary roof is failing, causing further interior damage.
The City of Providence has an option on the building in order to save it and is working with a local realtor to identify a buyer.
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)