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Old Posted Oct 12, 2012, 4:45 AM
ikarshenbaum ikarshenbaum is offline
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Will anyone stand up to protect the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue?

By Irena Karshenbaum
People the world over go to great lengths to protect historic sites. Built in 1900, the Parisian Gare d’Orsay railway station was converted into Musee d’Orsay in 1986. Owned by the City of New York and opened in 2009, the High Line Park was built over a historic freight rail line elevated above Manhattan’s West Side.

These examples of “adaptive reuse,” an architectural concept for reusing a building or a space for which it was not originally intended for, not only enriches our built environment but contributes to creating layers of a rich cultural and architectural heritage.

Similarly, Jewish communities the world over go to great lengths to protect and restore their religious and historic sites fighting for the miraculous restoration of The New Synagogue in Berlin and the White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, Poland, just to name a couple.

Whether the option is adaptive reuse or protection of original use, people invest resources to preserve their history and their heritage.

Oddly, Calgary’s Jewish community has had little awareness and interest in doing so, despite unprecedented freedom, economic well being and social status.

We have a history of discarding our religious and community places once we’ve deemed them to be economically unviable moving with the wave of the suburbs and taking on a physical appearance that is almost indistinguishable from the rest of the population. We have become architecturally invisible contributing almost nothing to the built environment and have failed to create a new distinctly Jewish yet western architectural character – the Little Synagogue at Heritage Park being the lone exception.

120 years have passed of a Jewish presence in Calgary and in that time we have neglected to develop who we are architecturally. We have denied ourselves, and with it have denied the greater community, of experiencing our own unique architectural identity.

Instead here is what we have done.

The Jewish community abandoned the sandstone Talmud Torah at 211 6th Avenue S.E.; the coffin-shaped Chevra Kadisha at 1702 17th Avenue S.W.; its first community building, the Art Deco House of Israel at 102 18th Avenue S.E. and the attached Mid 20th Century Modern Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue at 103 17th Avenue S.E.

From an urban vibrancy perspective, the House of Israel got lucky. After standing empty for a number of years, it was transformed into one of Calgary’s most desirable townhouses by a visionary entrepreneur. From the Jewish community’s perspective, this is a loss as this beautiful building could have been a crown in the community’s inventory that we haven’t had the vision to accumulate.

The Talmud Torah was not so lucky. It is now a failed green pocket beside the triangular St. Francis Church.

The Chevra Kadisha stands empty for now; its adaptive reuse potential currently unknown.

Jewish sites add a rich layer to the local history speaking not only of a Jewish presence but also laying a stake to the land.

Without a physically unique and stable center, we are at risk of slipping into a virtual community.

This brings us to the current predicament of the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue.

A newspaper clipping from April 12, 1959, held in the archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta shows Jacob Bell Barron, in a wheelchair, surrounded by children, breaking ground to what would be the city’s first modern orthodox congregation. Leo Sheftel, the congregation’s first president, urged the 400 people in attendance to “help the synagogue” and that they did. Raising $400,000, the community completed the synagogue in less than six months opening its doors in time for that year’s High Holidays.

According to the Joyful Harvest book, Bella Singer donated the congregation’s Aron Kodesh made of Galilee marble. Murray Robins was the first head of the men’s club while Sybil Bercov led the original sisterhood. Rabbis Ginsburg and Postone were among the congregation’s best known clergy.

Sheila Gurevitch, whose father was Leo Sheftel, remembers, “My father was going door-to-door. He was very involved with about half a dozen men. Meetings were held at our house very often.” On June 14, 1964, 21 year old Sheila Sheftel married 25 year old Dr. Ralph Gurevitch in the newly built synagogue.

Sheila remembers, “The shul was very warm and soothing. There was something about it. I don’t know whether it was the wood paneling. It was very warm and comforting. It was very family oriented. In Calgary we didn’t have many new people in those days so when you’d walked in you saw the same people and you felt a part of it.”

But with the drift of the community south, the synagogue followed the population. In 1986, the modern orthodox congregation amalgamated with the conservative Beth Israel Synagogue whose building was at the same location the newly formed Beth Tzedec Congregation is today, at 1325 Glenmore Trail SW.

The congregation felt it couldn’t afford to keep the building, so in 1991 the Shaarey Tzedec was sold to the Calgary Centre for Positive Living.

In March of 2012, the City of Calgary added the Shaarey Tzedec to its Historic Resource Evaluation List. Although the evaluation does not protect the building, it is the first step an owner must take to designate and protect a building.

The City’s evaluation states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is highly valued as a symbol of the strength and perseverance of the Jewish community to establish the first synagogue built since the House of Jacob was constructed in 1912.” Adding the synagogue is, “Also significant for its stunning and dynamic Modern-style architecture.” The evaluation rates the synagogue as having “city-wide significance.”

The City recognizes, “Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is in remarkably original condition in both the interior and exterior spaces.” The biggest change to the building is that the connection between the House of Israel and the synagogue was sealed after the former was sold and converted to townhouses.

On May 29, 2012, the Calgary Centre for Positive Living sold the Shaarey Tzedec site for $4.2 million to KS (KingSett Capital based in Toronto having a 75% interest) and to JAT (John Torode having a 25% interest).

KingSett Capital is a private equity business that according to its website focuses on investing in, “Office, retail and industrial properties and portfolios in the central and suburban business districts of Canada's major markets.” It has a strategy of “Co-investing with pension funds and high net worth individuals” to “achieve premium risk weighted returns.”

John Torode was once a high profile real estate developer who ran Torode Realty. In November of 2009 he declared bankruptcy, which caused him to abandon building two towers (after one was built) of the Arriva project in Victoria Park.

At the time of writing this article, JAT has filed a development application with the City of Calgary, for the demolition of the Shaarey Tzedec to be replaced with a 48 unit condo on the upper three floors and retail at ground level.

I have seen the plans and they are conventional, dull and represent arrogance in their ignorance of local history, heritage and culture.

This proposal raises a lot of questions in my mind.

Why are we so willing to discard our city’s and the Jewish community’s historic, cultural and heritage fabric?

Why do we give little thought to the legacy we are leaving future generations? (The Shaarey Tzedec will be lost forever and missed by future generations. No photograph or plaque will ever replace it).

Why is it acceptable to demolish a building that is of a better architectural quality than what is being proposed?

Why are we indifferent to dumping a building into a landfill, when we obsess about saving paper and banning plastic bags?

Why are we allowing the demolition of a building that could be reused and desperately needed by arts and cultural organizations when nothing is being built for arts and cultural organizations?

Why have we accepted a value that owners can do whatever they want with their developments when we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of the developments they create?

Why do we allow non-resident owners to parachute into our city and build whatever development to give their investors the highest return on their investment while being ignorant of our history and heritage?

Is Calgary just a place for economic transients and a vehicle for efficient capital formation?

I called Aron Eichler, Yiddish teacher and the community’s sage, to ask him the meaning of “shaarey tzedec.” “Gates of justice,” Aron explains. After I tell him what is being proposed, he adds, “If they demolish it, there is no justice.”

These developments have been a wave, but soon will turn into a tsunami, unless we stop them.

Your letters to the Mayor and Council opposing this development are greatly appreciated.

Irena Karshenbaum is a writer and heritage advocate who led a project that gifted one of the last surviving prairie synagogues to Heritage Park. irenak@shaw.ca

This article was originally published in the October 12, 2012 issue of Calgary's Jewish Free Press. It was republished on this site by the author.
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Old Posted Oct 12, 2012, 10:18 PM
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Any photos to share?
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Old Posted Oct 14, 2012, 1:50 AM
ikarshenbaum ikarshenbaum is offline
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i'm new to this site. i have photos but don't know how to attach them. can you help me please by telling me where i find the thingy to attach the photos?
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Old Posted Oct 14, 2012, 3:11 AM
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Use the button. If you need to upload the photos to the internet, I suggest Flickr.
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Old Posted Oct 15, 2012, 2:13 PM
ikarshenbaum ikarshenbaum is offline
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photos on the Calgary Heritage Initiative website. it will pop up to my letter, scroll up:
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Old Posted Oct 15, 2012, 11:59 PM
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That's a very interesting building! I hope your campaign is successful.
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Old Posted Oct 16, 2012, 3:04 PM
ikarshenbaum ikarshenbaum is offline
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thank you, vid! i appreciate you reading my article and prompting me to learn how to add photos here.

appeal to all readers.
article about my appeal to the City of Calgary City Appeal Board is in today's Calgary Herald:
your letters and phone calls to Mayor Nenshi and Council to protect the site as an arts/cultural venue or incorporate into a new development are greatly appreciated. thank you!
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Old Posted Oct 17, 2012, 4:21 PM
calgaryprogress calgaryprogress is offline
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historic site?

Hello Irena,
I understand your desire and passion to save historic sites but I disagree with your perspective.
I live in the area of the synagogue and the site is in terrible condition. There is a large homeless problem in the area and the location is a constant location for garbage, drunkeness and public urination. I understand the building has not been used since 1986. I believe that the neighborhood would be better served as homes or apartments for the many young people willing to relocate downtown, to help give the city life and energy. A decrepid tired old cinder block building with garbage, crime and homelessness is not reflective of the city, area and downtown and I believe a building with apartments, shops and new life would be better served for all residents, not just historians. Just my opinion but the neighborhood needs to catch up to the rest of the city.

When I searched the owners and their history I did see that they had saved the two historic schools (1912) at the arriva tower and as well they had put the group together to buy the Calgary Opera building. Seems like the owners have a reputation for actually saving and preserving relevant historical structures.

If the building holds some value, can you get a group together to buy the site, and in turn clean it up and make it a museum? Thanks for your effort.
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Old Posted Nov 15, 2012, 3:42 AM
ikarshenbaum ikarshenbaum is offline
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My op-ed on the Shaarey Tzedec was published in today's (Wednesday, November 14, 2012) issue of the Calgary Herald

Karshenbaum: Historic districts are built one building at a time
By Irena Karshenbaum, Calgary Herald November 13, 2012

Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Ka...#ixzz2CG6YjIDu

When Calgarians started demolishing early 20th century buildings two generations ago, they couldn’t envision that their actions denied us our heritage. They were thinking only of themselves, without considering how the past fit into the future.

Had they been more thoughtful, Calgary would have had vibrant historic districts. We would have had the Mansion District along 13th Avenue S.W.; instead, we have the lone surviving Lougheed House. We would have had a Stephen Avenue Walk stretching from the Barron Building to Inglewood; instead, it barely spans five blocks.

The Cathedral District, recognized by the Mission neighbourhood area redevelopment plan, published in 2004, contains the greatest concentration of Catholic sites: CNR Station (formerly St. Mary’s Parish Hall), Sacred Heart Convent, Rouleau House, St. Mary’s Cathedral and the House of Israel.

Completed in 1949, the art deco House of Israel community centre was the Jewish community’s toehold into the Catholic neighbourhood.

In 1959, the Jewish community built the Shaarey Tzedec synagogue in the adjoining lot. The mid-century modern building — currently the newest heritage period — was only the city’s second synagogue. The House of Jacob, built in 1911, was the city’s first. It was demolished, despite a massive community outcry, in 1968 to make way for Bow Valley College.

The demolition of the House of Jacob, which was at the heart of the now obliterated Jewish district, wiped away an entire physical history of the neighbourhood. In 2011, the House of Jacob’s presence was acknowledged on the Bow Valley College building with a plaque.

The city’s tiny Jewish community drifted south. In 1991, the Shaarey Tzedec was sold to the Centre for Spiritual Living.

In March 2012, the City of Calgary added the Shaarey Tzedec to its historic resource evaluation list, which states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is highly valued as a symbol of the strength and perseverance of the Jewish community to build the first synagogue since the House of Jacob.”

It notes the synagogue is, “Also significant for its stunning and dynamic modern-style architecture.” The evaluation rates the building as having “citywide significance” and observes it “is in remarkably original condition.”

Strong words — only, the city refuses to give the evaluation power. Instead, it is only the first step an owner must take to protect a heritage building.

In May 2012, the Centre for Positive Living sold the site to KingSett Capital based out of Toronto (75 per cent interest) and Calgary’s John Torode (25 per cent interest).

Torode filed development plans, which were approved in September 2012, which would see the Shaarey Tzedec demolished to make way for a mixed-use condo development.

In reviewing the plans, no consideration was given to the site’s history, architectural significance or context within the neighbourhood. Neither heritage experts nor anybody from the Jewish community with heritage expertise was consulted. The city simply stated, “The subject building has been identified by Heritage as meriting some form of recognition in the new development, in the form of an interpretive plaque.”

The Mission area redevelopment plan, written by the city, also contains goals, principles and policies to protect “historical significance of the community” and encourages “adaptive reuse of historically significant sites.”

In having voiced my opposition to this development, I have learned the city is not actually willing to do anything to protect any heritage building in Calgary.

What does the city’s heritage department do? It documents heritage buildings and encourages owners to put up plaques over the graves of heritage sites.

That’s it.

At this rate, no heritage building will ever be protected, especially given how much non-resident investment money is flowing to the city.

And yet, the Shaarey Tzedec is completely unique to Calgary’s history and should be allowed to live in an adaptive reuse form to preserve its history and leave future generations options as to its use.

Religious buildings are being abandoned everywhere today as fewer people are attending churches and synagogues. The adaptive reuse of religious sites is a vibrant, sophisticated and environmentally wiser option than demolition.

Religious sites are being converted to restaurants, concert halls and living quarters around the world. The idea isn’t even new to Calgary. The Wesley United Church was converted to the Arrata Opera Centre.

In terms of the Shaarey Tzedec, its demolition would be tragic. The fact it hasn’t been used as a synagogue for more than 20 years is irrelevant — religious buildings have a different concept of time. It is the only example of its kind that survives in Calgary today.

Why do ill-conceived developments metastasize while heritage shrinks? The city needs to stop playing pansy and enforce its own policies.

Developers have a responsibility to learn local history and integrate their plans to fit the local heritage.

Heritage districts can only be created through the thoughtful preservation of one building at a time.

Irena Karshenbaum is a writer and heritage advocate who led a project that gifted to Heritage Park a synagogue that had been abandoned for more than 80 years. irenak@shaw.ca
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Old Posted Nov 15, 2012, 6:12 PM
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I would be interested in understanding the community's reasoning behind selling this building in 1991 as opposed to retaining it and ensuring it was preserved. Perhaps there is interest in purchasing it back at the current fair market price, as assessed by the potential new development that was approved? As you've noted, it is on the evaluation list as of this year, but heritage status has not been achieved, and this certainly was not pursued pre-1991 from what is publicly available.

You have suggested that "the city is not actually willing to do anything to protect any heritage building in Calgary."

I'm wondering why the community did not protected it either by not selling in 1991 or by making specific stipulations at the time of sale?
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Old Posted Nov 15, 2012, 6:27 PM
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I'd be interested in knowing what specifically was approved for the site. Is there a DP file that I can reference?
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Old Posted Nov 15, 2012, 6:28 PM
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The only thing about this building worth saving is the interior, the exterior is boring and ugly. Is it possible to re-purpose this building while saving the interior? unless it becomes a theatre or another church, I have my doubts.

I do agree that we have destroyed too much of our Architectural Heritage in this city though, glad to see people are taking notice.
Git'er done!
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Old Posted Nov 15, 2012, 6:55 PM
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...sorry Ms. Karshenbaum but unless you are actively pursuing venture capital to buy the site back this soapbox railing is unfounded....people that have absolutely no risk in the project should have no say IMO...your passion is evident and appreciated, your methods (pleading with the city to do something) are unsupportable...
Harmony begins with YOU!! This forum has achieved 0 days without a suburban vs. urban debate. Keep up the good work everyone!
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Old Posted Nov 29, 2012, 4:45 AM
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I was prevented from reading the following statement as the SDAB did not allow the Shaarey Tzedec appeal to proceed.

Appeal of the Shaarey Tzedec Demolition
Thursday, November 22, 2012
11:00 pm
1212 – 31 Avenue NE
Statement to the Subdivision Appeal Board
By Irena Karshenbaum

History of the Cliffbungalow Mission community

The Mission Area Redevelopment Plan states:

Mission may be the earliest known residential community in Calgary and is older than the City itself. It was inhabited for thousands of years by aboriginal peoples including the Blackfoot, Stoney and Sarcee (Tsuu T’ina).

In 1875, two of the first white settlers were Oblate priests, Fathers Scollen and Doucet. They established a Catholic mission south of the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers called Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace). When the North-West Mounted Police arrived, the mission was moved to the area that is now called Mission.

In 1884, when Calgary was incorporated as a town, Father Lacombe was obtaining title to the land for this Catholic mission from the Government of Canada.

In 1888, The Rouleau House was built and today is one of Calgary’s oldest houses.

In 1889, the first St. Mary’s Church was built. In 1893, the year before Calgary became a city, the Sacred Heart Convent was built.

In 1899, the Mission was incorporated into the Village of Rouleauville, a French-Canadian community. The streets were given the names of the local French Catholic leaders such as Lacombe, Scollen, Doucet and Leduc.

In 1905, St. Mary’s Parish Hall was built.

In 1907, Mission, along with Cliff Bungalow, was annexed to the City of Calgary.

In 1909, St. Mary’s School was built (first purpose built Separate School in Calgary).

In 1913, a worldwide economic recession caused the housing boom in Calgary to collapse.

Mission is completely unique to Calgary because of its association with the historic Catholic Mission.

The Mission ARP recognizes The Cathedral District is bounded by 18 Avenue to the north, 2 Street SW to the west, the south boundary of the Sacred Heart Convent lands to the south and the Elbow River and 1 Street SE to the east. The City recognizes the Cathedral District for its concentration of buildings and structures relating to the history and development of the Mission community. Historic sites on the City’s Inventory, as of 2004, in the Cathedral District include:

• C.N.R. Station (formerly St. Mary’s Parish Hall)
• Sacred Heart Convent
• Rouleau House
• St. Mary’s Cathedral, is also a prominent landmark in the area.
• House of Israel (Art Deco)

The Jewish Community’s Entrance into the Mission Neighborhood

Into this Catholic milieu came Calgary’s Jewish community.

The first Jewish family to settle permanently in Calgary were Jacob and Rachel Diamond in 1889. Their home quickly became the heart of the Jewish community. It took the tiny community 20 years before they could afford to build their first synagogue, the House of Jacob, at 323 – 5th Avenue East where most Jewish homes were originally concentrated. [But despite best community efforts to save or relocate the House of Jacob to Heritage Park, the synagogue was demolished in 1968 to make way for what is now Bow Valley College. Last year, the presence of Calgary’s first synagogue was acknowledged on the Bow Valley College building with a plaque.]

With the growth of Calgary, the Jewish community began to move south. In 1929, they started building the House of Israel, in the Mission community, at 102 – 18 Avenue SE just east of the original St. Mary’s Cathedral. In 1930, construction was halted and was not resumed until after World War II when the building was finally completed in 1949. The House of Israel served as a community centre, a Hebrew School, it housed the Beth Israel Conservative Congregation and was home to a number of community organizations.

The Jewish community owned land adjacent to the House of Israel and by the late 1950s, many members of the community (over 900 families at this point) were desperate for a modern orthodox synagogue. The House of Jacob was still serving the Jewish community, but it was an orthodox congregation where men and women sat separately. Many people in the community wanted a modern orthodox synagogue where some changes included men and women, and therefore families, being able to sit together.

Calgary lawyer, theatre impresario, philanthropist and developer J.B. Barron, who had built the Barron Building and Uptown Theatre that anchored the oil industry in Calgary, and brothers Leo, Harry and Benjamin Sheftel played leading roles in raising money and building the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue. On April 12, 1959, J.B. Barron broke ground and lay the cornerstone for what in less than 6 months would be the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue. Facing 17th Avenue and located at 103 – 17th Avenue SE, the building was connected to the House of Israel Jewish Community Centre, which faced 18th Avenue SE.

What does Shaarey Tzedec mean? Shaarey means gates.

Tzedec (justice). The name is in reference to Judaism’s highest ideal: Deuteronomy 16:18-20 “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Why is “justice” repeated? Isn’t it enough to say it once? The Talmud suggests there are, in fact, two types of justice: strict law, and compromise.

Shaarey Tzedec. Gates of Justice.

The Shaarey Tzedec Architectural Character and Importance

Completed in 1959, the City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation (approved on April 12, 2012 by the Calgary Heritage Authority [exactly 53 years to the day of JB Barron breaking ground] and included in the submission materials), has stated, “the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is highly valued as a symbol of the strength and perseverance of the Jewish community to establish the first synagogue built since the House of Jacob was constructed. (Symbolic value is of city-wide significance)

The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue also has institutional value for its association to the Shaarey Tzedec Congregation Society, who spearheaded development and owned the synagogue for over 30 years. The congregation was one of the earliest Jewish organizations in the city. (Institutional value is of city-wide significance)

The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is further valued for its design as an integrated complex that reflects the interaction of Jewish spirituality and community. The complex was designed as a multi-purpose space, integrating the sanctuary with recreational and community spaces and meeting rooms. (Design value is of city-wide significance)

The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is also significant for its stunning and dynamic Modern-style architecture. The sanctuary displays an interest in the value of structure and skin, articulated through its exposed steel structural system supporting a shallow-pitched butterfly roof. (Style value is of city-wide significance)”

Description of the Historic Place

The City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is an exquisite Modern-style building comprising three connected rectangular masses of different sizes to form a sanctuary, foyer and office area. The sanctuary has a butterfly roof, exposed structural steel frame and blonde, stacked-bond, brick-clad walls. The front façade of the sanctuary displays recessed coloured glass curtain walls on the southeast and northeast sides of the building and undulating clerestory windows shielded by a floating blonde brick wall; a steel-frame hood with undulating roofline marks the building’s main entrance. The property is located in a mixed commercial and multi-unit residential area.”

What the City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation fails to recognize is that the building is turning away from the street on purpose. For centuries in Europe synagogues were unassuming, almost incognito buildings, to hide from the virulent anti-Semitism those tendencies have remained in the religion. Further, the building is inward looking to reflect the inward nature of the religion.

This is a Jewish building in its every essence. And its essence is in stark contrast to its neighbor, St. Mary’s Cathedral, which reflects the expansive and triumphal nature of Catholicism.

This is a Jewish building located in a Catholic District.

Heritage Value of the Historic Place

The building is composed of three rectangular masses of different sizes.

I will venture to say these three rectangular masses symbolize the three purposes of a synagogue: a Beit Midrash (House of Study), Beit Tfila (House of Prayer) and Beit Knesset (House of Assembly). But it is this last purpose, the Beit Knesset, which is the essence of a synagogue. The word “synagogue” comes from the Greek word meaning assembly. Synagogues are about community.

The sanctuary, the largest of the three masses, seats 600 in stationary benches. In accordance to Jewish religious customs, the sanctuary faces east (towards Jerusalem) to the bema (the reader’s platform), which contains the Ark of the Covenant, and forms the focal point from which the service is conducted.

A full-height basement, with six-meter ceilings allows for a convertible space for religious and community functions as well as enough height for recreation and sports.

The building was designed by prominent Calgary-based engineering and architectural firm, Abugov & Sunderland.

The interior space of the building is warm and thoughtfully detailed with wood paneled walls, travertine flooring and brass hardware and lighting. The sanctuary, clad in sections of vertical wooden-paneling, is a voluminous, simply detailed and an introspective space. Corner windows illuminate the bema to create an aura around that space. A gently bowed floating roof controls the infiltration of light into the space and stunning large brass suspended lights hang from the ceiling.

- my favorite is the open pergola, most wouldn’t recognize that this is a tent, a chuppah, a wedding canopy. A chuppah represents a Jewish home. A chuppah is open on all four sides to represent hospitality, a direct reference to Isaiah 54:2 “to enlarge the site of your tent,” to remind us to welcome guests into our home, into our community.

The City of Calgary Historic Resource Evaluation states, “The Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue is in remarkably original condition in both the interior and exterior spaces.”

What is missing from the Historic Evaluation is the recognition that this is one of only two Jewish buildings in a historic Catholic neighborhood. Also, it is the ONLY Mid Century Modern Synagogue that has survived in Calgary today. No other synagogue from this time or this architectural period exists in any other neighborhood in Calgary, and perhaps even southern Alberta.

I will venture to say this building is probably of a province-wide significance as the Jewish communities in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Drumheller, Rumsey, Trochu, Pine Lake and of course, Sibbald have now disappeared.

Into this milieu comes a 48 unit condo development with retail and consumer services, which when narrowly considered is the kind of development the city has been encouraging developers to build. Except, only it completely disregards what is on the site currently.

The City review process included a “CPAG Team” consisting of planning, urban development, transportation and parks. It does not appear that the heritage team was ever consulted. Instead, the conditions of approval state:

Number 2 under Planning:

Administration has identified the existing building on the site to be of a Historic Calgary Resource. The subject building has been identified by Heritage as meriting some form of recognition in the new development, in the form of an interpretive plaque. This plaque is to recognize the existing building (Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue) and its contribution to the City’s historic archives. The applicants are highly encouraged to examine the interpretive plaque as provided by at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre as an example of the form of plaque to be dedicated.

In the 1960s and 70s Calgarians tore down many gorgeous and important buildings without understanding their value. To the eyes of that generation those buildings were old, they represented urban blight and they believed that the only way to achieve cleanliness, order, renewal and utopia was by tearing them down and building new. This way we, the future generations, have been denied many historic buildings that would have contributed to an evolution of a sophisticated urban environment.

If the Shaarey Tzedec will be demolished it will be dead to future generations. No plaque will ever be able to tell the story of this time, these people, this religion, these traditions. This building will only be able to tell its many layers of history, if it will be allowed to live. Future generations, with their tastes and sensibilities that are unknown to us, will lament this building’s loss.

With the Shaarey Tzedec issue, we are standing at the edge of what is about to turn into Calgary’s very own Architectural Hurricane Sandy, as process was not followed and heritage planners with the City of Calgary were not consulted on this development. Allowing this development to proceed while disregarding the importance of the Shaarey Tzedec site and discarding the heritage process, will set a devastating precedent for heritage preservation and for the creation of a historic fabric.

Mid Century Modern is the Next Heritage Period [an article from the Calgary Public Library is included in the submission materials]. Calgary architect Tomasz Sztuk in a recent Avenue Magazine article discussed some of Calgary’s greatest buildings that have gone unnoticed. Sztuk states about the Shaarey Tzedec, “There is a complexity that is appreciated only when you start looking.”

It is a complexity or a sophistication that we have not yet learned to appreciate in Calgary. There is in architecture a term called the “black spot,” where we place a low value on a particular architectural style just before it gains its highest value.

I have included in the submission materials photographs of a gorgeous Mid Century Modern synagogue, also called the Shaare-Zedek, in St. Louis, Missouri. The example you see is a Mid Century building with an Art Deco influence. Our Shaarey Tzedec was built slightly later than this example, so it’s in a full-blown Moderne period. Notice the similarities of the sanctuary, the warm, wood paneled walls, the stunning brass and wooden chandeliers.

I hate to say this, but we the Jewish people are the Panda bears of the human world. Our population is shrinking. In 1911, when the original House of Jacob was built the Jewish community represented 1.4% of Calgary’s population. Today, 100 years later we represent 0.7% of the population. With our tiny size, we find it increasingly difficult to sustain our organizations.

With the drifting of the community south, in 1991, the Shaarey Tzedec Congregation made the decision to sell the building to the Centre for Spiritual Living, which gained it a new life as a church.

I have included in the submission materials examples of adaptive reuse.

One article discusses the potential of churches being reused.

I’ve included a photo of the Former Mickveh Yisrael Synagogue and Hebrew School in Melbourne used as a bar and food establishment.

Another photo is a synagogue in Budapest that has been converted to apartments.

Another photo is of a 1915 synagogue in Seattle that the City of Seattle purchased and is now used as a performing arts centre.

Another photo is of a synagogue in New York City that has also been an underwear factory, shower-curtain factory, a Chinese laundry, and a fabric store. It is currently used as a private residence.

And let’s not forget our very own House of Israel that was converted to some very desirable townhouses.

These creative adaptive reuse examples could only have been achieved by allowing the building to live.

The current development plans although having met many of the City’s rules have fallen short on many Mission ARP goals, principals and policies.

Development Contrary to the Stated Goals of the Mission Area Redevelopment Plan

The goals of the Mission Area Redevelopment Plan are:

1. (Goal 1) To ensure that existing and new development contributes to the enhancement of Mission as a unique, safe, vibrant and livable inner-city community;

2. (Goal 2) To establish a policy framework for sensitively managing growth and change within the context provided by the Municipal Development Plan (The Calgary Plan) while maintaining and protecting the special historical character of the community;

3. (Goal 3) To encourage a variety of dwelling types that support a diverse population mix and variety of income levels, as well as special needs groups;

4. (Goal 5) To encourage new residential and commercial development to be compatible with the special character of Mission;

5. (Goal 6) To recognize and protect where possible, the historical significance of the community;

Development Contrary to Guiding Principles of Smart Growth

(Principal 5) Promote distinctive, attractive communities with strong identities by taking advantage of features that make an area special, like heritage buildings, unique shopping streets or appealing open spaces.

(Principal 7) Encourage growth in existing communities by finding ways for new development to fit in with the older neighborhood.

(Principal 9) Encourage citizen participation in development decisions.

Development Contrary Mission ARP 4.3 Policy

1. The City of Calgary encourages the preservation of buildings included on the Inventory of Potential Heritage Sites.

2. Adaptive re-use of historically significant sites and structures is encouraged.

3. Additions, renovations and significant alterations to identified potential historic sites should be of a nature and quality that complement the existing character of Mission.

4. Promote public awareness of historic sites in Mission.

4.4 Implementation

1. The Approving Authority should use incentives, including voluntary density transfers approved in the Heritage Management Program Policies and Procedures, which encourage the adaptive reuse of historic residential, commercial and institutional sites that are on the City’s Inventory.

2. Owners of potential historic sites are encouraged to investigate use of the Heritage Incentive Program.

3. Owners are encouraged to use the density transfer system as approved by City Council in the Heritage Management Program Policies and Procedures (1983).


13.1 Context

The ARP focuses on:

Encouraging conservation and adaptive reuse of older housing stock and buildings of heritage merit.

I respectfully request that the SDAB act as a conduit for a thoughtful decision to take place given the importance of the heritage asset at stake.

The House of Jacob, Calgary’s first synagogue, was demolished in 1968. A generation later, the city’s oldest surviving synagogue, the Shaarery Tzedec, is facing the same fate. This site is absolutely critical to Calgary’s, and Alberta’s, historic and heritage fabric and I respectfully request that the SDAB either deny the permit or direct the proposal to the City of Calgary heritage planners for their review and comment. Such a heritage review will provide time for a mutually beneficial decision to take place. Thank you.

Irena Karshenbaum
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