Synagogue to be restored after fire
LEADVILLE – The State Historical Fund has awarded $147,340 to rehabilitate the Temple Israel, Leadville’s historic synagogue, which was damaged in a May 2006 fire. Bill Korn, president of the Temple Israel Foundation, is heading the effort to rebuild the synagogue. He wants to turn the building into a museum. The recent funds will go to the first of two phases in the restoration process. First, the roof and structural supports need to be mended. Phase one of the historical renovation will involve increasing the strength of the outer walls and the roof. Originally, large scissor trusses supported the roof of the building. Several of these trusses survived the fire relatively undamaged. But the trusses near the back were not so lucky. The reinforcement of the walls will take the load off the trusses. Once phase one is done, the building will be strong and look good – from the outside, Korn said.
History of Leadvilles Jewish community parallels Leadvilles mercantile history. David May, founder of May D & F stores, started here, and was a notable member of the synagogue. But less well-known are the whiskey merchants. Jews dominated the wholesale whiskey business, Korn said. Whiskey jugs, of which Temple Israel Foundation has several, are important historical markers because jugs were stamped with the distributor’s name and address. The jugs make it possible to know who was selling what and from where they were selling. The jugs, along with other artifacts, have already been on display at several museums throughout the country, Korn said. Notably, the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles had an exhibit on Jewish pioneers with artifacts from Leadville’s Jewish community. Leadville’s Jewish community blended well with the wider Leadville community, Korn said. From the get-go, land for the synagogue was donated. David May returned the favor and donated to the steeple of the Annunciation Church. The synagogue also had an organ and a choir, Korn said. These were not traditional elements of Jewish worship, but were adopted from Christian neighbors. “This stuff they picked up from the goyim across the street,” Korn said.The synagogue is across the street from St. George’s Episcopal Church. Korn said he was happy that the State Historical Fund saw fit to give money to both organizations this year. “It’s good to restore that particular crossing,” Korn said
The second phase of the historical renovation will focus on the interior of the building. Korn said he hopes the exterior work can be finished in the summer so the interior work can begin in the winter. Work on the building actually began this summer when a caretaker’s unit was added.
The addition of the unit is not historical per se, but in historic photos it seems the synagogue often had a shed attached to the back, Korn said. The museum would only be the latest project for the Temple Israel Foundation. The foundation actually grew out of Korn’s interest in restoring Leadville’s Jewish Cemetery. The synagogue is an interesting project because it is one of the older synagogues around, Korn said.Alyson McGee, of the State Historical Fund, said preserving the building was urgent and important. The urgency came from the damage done by the fire. The restoration is important because the building is architecturally important, McGee said. The setting is also relevant.”Leadville is very important to Colorado history,” McGee said.