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Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue

Architecture and Community

Architecture & Urban Renewal, Religion, Sacred Landmarks

Description
A thorough examination of an influential building and the architect behind its design

Eric Mendelsohn’s modernist building, The Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is one of the most significant post–World War II buildings in the United States. Notable for its magnificent dome and its natural wooded setting, it also has an immense architectural influence on other religious structures in the Midwest.

Erected during the late 1940s, the Synagogue was built in response to a large majority of the downtown Cleveland Jewish population moving to the eastern suburbs. In 1934, under the leadership of Rabbi Armond Cohen, the struggling Anshe Emeth Beth Telfio congregation bought the twelve-acre property of the defunct Park School in Cleveland Heights and later purchased an additional twenty-one acres of land adjacent to the Park property owned by John D. Rockefeller. Plans were developed for a new synagogue that was designed and built by the famous European architect Eric Mendelsohn. Today The Park Synagogue, dedicated in 1950, is home to one of the nation’s major conservative congregations.

Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue tells the story of the construction of The Park Synagogue and examines how Mendelsohn consciously sought to express the ideals and traditions of the congregation and Judaism in its architectural forms. From one of the world’s largest copper-clad domes weighing 680 tons to the shape of the sanctuary and spectacular bimah, Mendelsohn sought to incorporate the architecture into Jewish ritual and worship. He favored dramatic curves of glass walls, circular stairwells, and porthole windows, and he used the circle as a dominant form throughout his career. The Park Synagogue is one of the few Mendelsohn buildings that remains virtually as it was built.

Author Walter C. Leedy Jr. discusses how the construction of The Park Synagogue solidified the congregation, attracted new members, and set the stage for expansion into the next century. Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue brings unique insight into the development of the American Jewish community during the post–World War II period and into the evolution of Mendelsohn’s architecture.

Author

Walter C. Leedy Jr. was an architectural historian and a professor at Cleveland State University. He passed away in 2006, shortly before Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue was finished. The book was completed by his longtime personal friend, Sara Jane Pearman, who is now retired from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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