“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”
The site of our first synagogue was on the corner of Travis and Jefferson Streets. Bids for construction of the Temple were opened on November 1, 1874. The Building Committee in that month was authorized to enter into a contract for building at the cost of $12,300. It would take more than a year for the Temple to be built. The opening ceremony was held on Friday, September 10, 1875. A committee composed of Mr. Mandelbaum, H.L. Berg, and A. Kern had been appointed to engage an organist and instruct the choir for the dedication of the Temple. The dedication of the first Temple in San Antonio was an event in which the congregation was joined by a great assemblage of the people from all walks of life. Following the dedication on Saturday, the San Antonio Daily Express of September 11, 1875 gave a comprehensive detailed description of the event. “The beautiful building was soon filled to the utmost capacity. The congregation present was composed indiscriminately of Jews and Christians. Protestants and Catholics and all joined reverently and devoutly in the solemn and impressive religious services of the hour.”
By 1902, it was evident that the original building was no longer adequate to meet the congregation’s needs. Funds were raised and the new building was begun. This necessitated dismantling the old building. The congregation met in the Baptist church, opposite the Temple, in April, 1902, and the Pesach holidays were observed in the Harmony Club. The new building, erected on the site of the old building, was dedicated on September 18, 1903. The President of the Temple at that time was Nat Washer. Rabbi Henry Cohen, of Galveston, was invited to assist in the dedication.
As early as 1912, a committee was appointed to investigate the possibility of selling the Temple. In 1913, at the annual meeting, the membership was listed at 145, more than the building could reasonably accommodate. While it was hoped that the new building erected in 1902 would meet the needs of the congregation, it was soon evident that because of the rapid growth of the Congregation, there was simply not enough room to meet the Congregation’s needs at the existing site. On November 9, 1917, the Board voted to sell the Temple for $75,000.00. It was almost sold, but, because of legal technicalities, the deal was not consummated. In December of 1920, the possibility of selling the Temple was again investigated, and a committee appointed to begin soliciting funds for a new building. In 1924 the Temple building was sold for $100,000.00, and a new lot purchased for $15,250.00. On December 26, 1924, the Board selected the architects, Simon and Senter (Malcolm Simon being a Temple member), and a Building Committee was appointed, consisting of the following members: Morris Stern, chairman, G.A.C. Halff; N.M. Welsh; N.M Washer; J.D. Oppenheimer; Joe Frost; S.C. Eldridge; J.J. Sterne; Dr. A.A. Brown; Sid Katz; Max Blum; Mrs. I. A. Victor; Mrs. Nathan Kaufman; Mrs. Julius Seligmann; Mrs. Henry Oppenheimer; Mrs. Morris Stern; Miss Hannah Hirshberg; Mrs. George Laven; Mrs. Alex Joske; Mrs. Harry Landa; and Rabbi Ephraim Frisch. By November 9, 1924, the Subscription Committee reported signed pledges for the new Temple amounting to $82,760 and unsigned pledges amounting to $7,750 - a total of $90,510. Morris Stern headed a group of men who gave a congregational dinner in order to augment the building fund so that the Community Center could be built. Work on the new Temple progressed rapidly after the cornerstone was laid on November 30, 1925. The final completion was in 1927, during the administration of Morris Stern.
The new Temple dedication took place on April 28 and 30, 1927. It began on a Friday night and was concluded on Sunday morning. The program was elaborate. Five out- of- town rabbis and three local rabbis participated. The choir was supplemented by a special quartet and 12 women of the Congregation trained by Mrs. L.L. Marks. The concluding ceremonies of the dedication at the Sunday morning service included a special pageant, presented by the High School Department, with an epilogue written by Mrs. Ephraim Frisch. The new sanctuary had a seating capacity of 1200, with provisions for an additional 400 by erecting two side balconies. The Community Center contained 11 classrooms, an auditorium, a library, a large dining hall, and kitchen.
In June of 1946, the Building Committee, under the his leadership, and impetus of Rabbi Jacobson, submitted a report for eight major remodeling projects. The plans were outlined by N. Straus Nayfach, chairman, member of the Building Committee, and architect of the plans. Six projects were completed, supported by generous donations: the Hannah Hirshberg Chapel, financed by the Men’s Club; the After-Service Social Room, a memorial contributed by Mrs. Frederic G. Oppenheimer; the Memorial Patio, contributed by Joseph J. Barshop; the Memorial Boy and Girl Scout Room, donated by Harry Landa; the Young People’s Social Room and Refreshment Bar, in memory of Josephine Nathan; and the Memorial Auditorium. During the same period, the beautiful new Goldsmith organ was installed, given as a memorial to their parents by Nat and Manuel Goldsmith and Ruth Goldsmith Goodman.
In 1977, our Temple celebrated its rededication on the 50th anniversary of the dedication of our sanctuary. Our Temple began to look at the needs of our synagogue. Because of space limitations, our Religious School was limited to double sessions of one hour and fifty minutes each. A Long Range Planning Committee, headed by Seymour J. Dreyfus, was appointed, culminating in the creation of a Facilities Planning Committee headed by Kenneth Ladensohn. Construction began in late summer of 1981 and was completed in time for the dedication of the renovated Temple facilities and community building on January 21, 1983. By the time construction was completed, the Temple was then blessed with the Barshop auditorium, capable of seating over five hundred at dinner and over eight hundred theater-style. A kitchen was built adjoining the Auditorium. The former kitchen became an arts and crafts room. A large new library, approximately double the size of the previous one, and the Wulfe Conference Room were created from the existing auditorium. The ceiling of the present auditorium was lowered, providing for six new classrooms and a multi-purpose room. The existing library was converted into two new classrooms. Offices were renovated. The downstairs auditorium was converted into three classrooms. Altogether, seven new classrooms were added.
Since that time, there have been additional renovations to the classrooms, as well as other remodeling. Most importantly, within the last ten years, we have begun a systematic attempt to provide access to the congregation for those with physical limitations. The activities include curb cuts, an automatic door, wider door frames, and a wheelchair lift. Our plans for the future include access to the Bimah and the classrooms in the basement and on the second floor.
The dawn of the 21st century will, in all likelihood, see extensive renovations. These include construction of new administrative offices; renovation and expansion of our classroom facilities; and preservation of the sanctuary. In undertaking this task, we are following the path laid out for us by our past Temple members in 1875, 1903, 1927, 1947, and 1983.