One of the only remaining traces of D.C.'s Shomrei Shabbos orthodox Jewish community is in danger of being lost. Samantha Bass and Zachary Paul Levine of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington fill us in on the story. Thanks, Samantha and Zachary!
Slewka contacted the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and with their guidance and help from artist Nicholas Kahn, she worked to restore the celestial scene, Jewish star, and a portion of the biblical quote that encircled the ark. She and Kahn added a winged lion. As a professional filmmaker, Slewka also produced a film about the building and the different communities that made it a home.
Decades later, that same mural is in danger. Plans to convert the building into condominiums threaten the survival of this unique piece of Washington Jewish history.
Built in the 1860s, the story of 415 M is the story of the changing urban fabric of Washington, D.C. Originally a private house, the building became the Young Men's Hebrew Association in 1914, and, from 1915-1925, the first Hebrew Home for the Aged. Shomrei Shabbos, the Jewish congregation, purchased the building in 1925 and left in the 1930s. When the congregation converted the building into a synagogue, they removed part of the second floor to create a balcony from which the women could view religious services below, where the men sat.
The building contains other evidence of previous occupants. Notes etched into a windowpane by a resident in the 1890s are visible on the second floor. A baptismal from the building’s use as a church is still accessible via a trapdoor on the first floor.
In 2013, 415 M Street was sold to BlackRock Holdings, a custom home building company based in McLean, VA, that will convert the property into a multi-unit condominium later this summer. BlackRock is providing the Society with access and encouragement in efforts to document and save the mural.
The Society hopes to save the mural before construction starts later this summer. A photographer was commissioned to document the mural, and a professional paint analysis is planned. A proposal is in hand from a conservation firm to remove and conserve the mural’s original portions. This ambitious project requires at least $20,000. The Society has created a website to educate the public about 415 M’s rich history and to solicit donations.
Through the years at 415 M
- 1860s: Built as private home
- 1914: Young Men's Hebrew Association
- 1915: Hebrew Home for the Aged
- 1925: Shomrei Shabbos synagogue
- 1947: Baptist Church of Jesus Christ
- 1984: Metropolitan Community Church (LGBT community)
- 1993: Private home
- 2013: Bought by developer for condo conversions
UPDATE: The Jewish Historical Society of DC successfully raised $20,000 to remove and conserve the mural from its original location at 415 M Street NW. According to Throughline Collaborative: "The pieces will be presented in a future museum of DC Jewish history."