A Surprising Find at Eastern State Penitentiary

Posted on May 2nd, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

On Monday, April 23, the JMM management team (Marvin, Tracey, Joanna, Ilene and me) piled into Ilene’s car and drove to Philadelphia.

We made the trip to visit our colleagues at the National Museum of American Jewish History and at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Both institutions provided engaging and meaningful experiences, and both provided surprises. I will leave some stories for other posts (and maybe other writers), and focus here on what I found the most surprising about Eastern State Penitentiary: its synagogue.

The historic prison has a beautifully restored synagogue in its midst. I was surprised when our tour guide first mentioned its existence, and my surprise was only compounded when we stepped into the space.

The small room is paneled in a dark wood not unlike our own Rosen-Salganik Board Room, with a simple but decorative ark in one corner and a golden star of David medallion on the ceiling.

The original synagogue door shows the ghosts of two stars of David that used to adorn it.

The space had been built in the early 20th century. “Were there a lot of Jewish prisoners here?” I wondered aloud. Our tour guide informed me that when the synagogue was completed in the 1920s, about 80 of the 1400 prisoners there were Jewish. Rather than a pressing demand for Jewish religious expression among the prisoners, the Eastern State synagogue was built by the broader Philadelphia Jewish community. Likewise, the gleaming, restored space was made possible by the contemporary community.

Once we had had a chance to take in the space, our guide asked for our help flipping down a long section of paneling. As the section flipped down on a long piano hinge, exhibit panels were revealed, presenting the history of the space and of Jewish life at Eastern State.

We had fun comparing historical photos to the contemporary space in which we stood, and were all intrigued to read that the first Jewish clergy to visit Eastern State did so in 1845, the same year our own Lloyd Street Synagogue was born.

Also on display in the synagogue space was a small crowd-sourced display, Share Your Mitzvah.

The Eastern State staff created cards that allowed visitors to share mitzvahs done either by them or for them. They’d also created cards for children to draw pictures to share their stories of good-deed-doing or -receiving. I was impressed with both the sentiment of the display and the low-tech efficiency of it.

In fact, don’t be surprised if one day in the not-too-distant future JMM asks for similar crowd-sourced reports of good-deed-doings.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Preservation Month: How to Reuse a Room

Posted on May 21st, 2015 by

As decreed in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, May is Preservation Month!  Each year national, regional, and local organizations – including Preservation Maryland – take the opportunity to engage the public in discussion  about why preservation of the natural and built environment is important.

Though we are not a formal preservation organization, the JMM has delved into that side of history upon occasion.  The Lloyd Street Synagogue is, of course, a prime example; we were essentially founded (as the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland) to help save the building, which was threatened with demolition in the early 1960s.  Many individuals and organizations came together to preserve the oldest synagogue in Maryland, allowing us to share the building’s history and stories with our visitors for over 50 years.

Lester Levy and audience during the Lloyd Street Synagogue restoration dedication, 1962. Donated by Janet Fishbein (daughter of Susan Levy Bodenheimer), Ellen Patz, Ruth Gottesman & Vera Mende. JMM#2002.079.034

Lester Levy and audience during the Lloyd Street Synagogue restoration dedication, 1962. Donated by Janet Fishbein (daughter of Susan Levy Bodenheimer), Ellen Patz, Ruth Gottesman & Vera Mende. JMM#2002.079.034

A smaller and less well-known preservation project under our belt is the Hendler Creamery Company office, also known (now) as the JMM’s Rosen-Salganik Board Room.

The fireplace wall of the JMM’s Rosen-Salganik Board Room, May 2015.

The fireplace wall of the JMM’s Rosen-Salganik Board Room, May 2015.

The Hendler Creamery Company, founded in 1905, moved into an imposing structure at 1100 E. Baltimore Street in 1912.  The building had originally been constructed in 1892 as a cable-car powerhouse, and was briefly used as a Yiddish theater; the Hendler Company converted it into an automated ice cream factory.  Sometime between 1912 and the 1920s, Manuel Hendler commissioned a mahogany-paneled room –complete with brass fixtures and a large mantlepiece – to serve as his private office on the building’s second floor.

The Hendler Creamery building, decked out for the company's golden anniversary. JMM 1998.47.21.3

The Hendler Creamery building, decked out for the company’s golden anniversary. JMM 1998.47.21.3

After the creamery closed in the 1970s, the building was purchased by developer Samuel Boltansky.  In 1995 he donated to the JMM the room’s paneling and trim, in order to preserve this piece of the building’s history (albeit in a new location a block away).  The museum was about to undergo an expansion, and Bernard Fishman, our Director at the time, suggested we add a new space to the plans to accommodate Hendler’s office as completely as we could. Thus, in 1997, a local millwork firm installed the paneling, mantel, and lights into our brand-new Rosen-Salganik Board Room.

Two views of the paneling installation, July 1997.  JMM# IA 3.0491, IA 3.0526

Two views of the paneling installation, July 1997. JMM# IA 3.0491, IA 3.0526

Like many historic buildings and spaces, the Hendler office is a survivor, with multiple uses and locations along its journey.  Family stories tell us that the paneling came from a bar or saloon before Mr. Hendler, known as an avid collector, installed it in his office.  We can’t confirm that story, but physical evidence discovered during the Board Room installation process showed that the panels had already been retrofitted at least once; unfortunately, its prior history is unclear.

In the room’s current space, there are some variations from the original, of course; we have sturdy carpet, in place of a parquet floor, and a moderately plain rather than decorative plaster ceiling. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive space for JMM meetings, and a nice way to actively preserve and make use of this unique historic resource.

…As for the Hendler Creamery building itself – rest easy, preservationists; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and plans are underway for an adaptive reuse development.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Walking and Talking about Historic Architecture: Sometimes it’s a challenge!

Posted on February 25th, 2013 by

abby krolik copyA blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik.

A week or two ago a teacher from a college in Pennsylvania called me, asking about Jewish cultural sites to visit in Baltimore that would be open on a Saturday because that was when she was bringing her World Religions class on a field trip here. I told that was going to be a little difficult.

What I could offer, however, was to email her a copy of our self-guided walking tour. She seemed excited about that, and our conversation ended on a satisfied note. The only problem now was that I knew the tour hadn’t been updated since 2007, and the “construction sites” mentioned in the script were now the completed houses of Albemarle Square.

For those of you who don’t know (and this might even include some JMM staff members!), our self-guided walking tour takes the visitor around our neighborhood of Historic Jonestown and tells a little about the history of some of the buildings that you see—and some of the buildings that you don’t see. For example, one of the stops is the old Hendler’s Creamery Company building on Baltimore Street, and another is the Russian Bath that once occupied the space where Lenny’s Deli now stands.



Ilene and I looked through the tour, updated it to match the current landscape, and we also decided to add more information. In the old script, almost nothing was mentioned about St John the Baptist Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church other than the fact that the congregation occupied the Lloyd Street Synagogue from 1890 to 1905. So, I added some tidbits that I thought would be very interesting about how the Lithuanian Catholics used their building. Did you know that the Lithuanian Garment Workers’ Union was founded in Lloyd Street Synagogue? Well, now you do, and anyone who takes the walking tour will also know that fact.

We also added more information about the Carroll Mansion, which is a couple of blocks away from us, but in order to do that, I had to do a little bit of research about the building’s history myself. I had no idea that the Mansion had gone through so many phases in its long life. I thought the Lloyd Street Synagogue had a complicated life story, but the Carroll Mansion has got it beat! First, it was the residence of the Carroll family—including the famous Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence. It later became a tenement house for immigrants, and then a sweatshop-tenement combo, and then it was a vocational school, and a recreation center, and a WPA project during the Great Depression, until 1962, when it finally became a museum.

The part of historic restoration and preservation that fascinates me the most is what you do with a building that has had several roles in its life. To what era do you restore it? Is it more important to highlight the mansion’s first incarnation as the residence of an important personage? Do you use the building to talk about sweatshops? Or could you use it to talk about the Great Depression? There are so many roads to choose, and I don’t know how to even begin deciding which one to take.

The Jewish Historical Society/Jewish Museum of Maryland had a similar dilemma with Lloyd Street Synagogue, and they ended up creating an interesting compromise—combining elements of the building that were present during Baltimore Hebrew’s tenure and that of Shomrei Mishmeres.

carroll mansion


I think it’s time I made a little field trip to the Carroll Mansions to see how they dealt with this challenge.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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