Anshe Emeth Nusach Sfard
Anshe Knesses Israel
Anshe Shavel and Yanova
Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Kehilath Hasfardim
Beth Hamedrosh U’Bnai Jacob
Beth Jacob Anshe Kroz
Ohel Jacob Anshe Kovno
There is one name missing from this list: First Roumanian Congregation. It’s missing because of all the above, it is the last surviving synagogue building in the Maxwell Street area. The pre-fire building (1 of only 112 remaining) is facing demolition, and Preservation Chicago put it on “The Chicago Seven,” its list of the most endangered structures in the city.
Constructed at 497 (now 1352 S.) Union Street in 1869, the building’s various ownerships reflect the changing demographics of the city. Its architect was Augustus Bauer, whose firm also designed St. Patrick’s Church and the Tree Studios. A German-speaking high school, part of the neighboring German United Evangelical Zion church, was the first tenant. Beginning in 1875, a branch of the Foster School, a public school, leased the building.
Former First Roumanian Congregation/Gethsamane Missionary Baptist Church
Former First Roumanian Congregation, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.
The Gethsamane Church has sported a large “For Sale” sign for at least three years. The broker describes it as land for sale, 26,000 square feet that can be divided into 11,000 square feet. The listing price is $3.5 million. This has not stopped plans by UIC to construct the John Paul II Newman Center Student Residence, at first a 17-story, 500-bed dormitory since scaled down to 5½-floor (what’s half a floor?), 250-bed facility.
Given the poor job done in preserving any semblance of character in the old Maxwell Street area, one would think the powers that be would want to save the Gethsamane. I find the arguments against preservation rather lame – merchants will benefit from additional money spent by the students, it’s not architecturally significant or financially viable, its vacancy is dangerous, etc. – when compared to the loss of the last vestige for which Maxwell Street is best known. Like it or not, this was (and for some still is) “Jewtown.” There were more than 30 Jewish congregations and only one is left. And my great-grandparents worshipped there after arriving in Chicago at the turn of the century, and my family is buried in the First Roumanian Congregation Cemetery in Waldheim. I know it’s personal, but I think preservation is more important than how many bags of Skittles the students will buy or how many pizzas they’ll order.