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Fowler Street Shul
 Chapter One of The Synagogues of Dorchester by Richard Heath.

94 Fowler Street, Dorchester


Congregation Beth El

Dedicated September 1, 1912

John A. Hasty, Architect

Razed in February, 1998.

Replaced by two-family house completed in June, 2000.
Bruce Hampton with Green Village Co., Architects


-Building permit

-Jewish Advocate, Sept. 2, 1910. ?Dorchester is to have its first synagogue.?

-American Architect, Sept. 7, 1910 p. 8. ?Site secured on Fowler Street for synagogue.?

-Suffolk County Deeds. Book 3528, Page 99. April 1, 1911.

-Suffolk County Deeds. Plan located at end of Book 2241.

-Jewish Advocate, July 7, 1911, p. 2. Illustration of synagogue. Fund raising story. ?We appeal to every Israelite in Dorchester to aid us.?

-Boston Hearld, Sept. 2, 1912. Opening day story. ]

-WPA Historical Records Survey of Boson religious buildings. 1940. On microfilm at the American-Jewish Historical Society.

-Jewish Advocate, Feb. 20, 1947. Front page & page 6. History of congregation.

-Jewish Advocate, Nov. 12, 1959, Sec 2 p. 10. Testimonial dinner for rabbi. Synagogue in the midst of shifting population.

-Jewish Advocate, March 16, 1961. Photograph of synagogue. Golden jubilee story.

-Jewish Advocate, April 11, 1963, p. 4. Story on synagogue history.

-Jewish Advocate, March 18, 1965. ?Difficult time due to chaning of the neighborhoods.?

-Jewish Advocate, July 13, 1967. Congregation vacates building.

-Suffolk County Deeds. Sale to Church of God & Saints of Christ. Book 8132, Page 67, July 12, 1967.

-City Record, September 15, 1997. Invitation for bids to demolish building.

-Jewish Advocate, Sept. 26, 1997. ?Fowler Street Shul faces demolition.?

-Jewish Advocate, Nov. 7, 1998. Front page with photograph. ?Wrecker?s ball aimed at an old Boston shul.?

Fowler Street Shul
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 Text of ?Beth El Golden Jubilee March 26.? Published in Jewish Advocate, Thursday, March 16, 1961.

On March 26 at Aperion Plaza, Roxbury, fifty years to the day of its opening, Cong. Beth El of Dorchester will celebrate its Golden Jubilee, those who wish to participate should contact Leo Lehrer at GA 7-8832 or AV 2-9067.

The Golden Jubilee Committee has issued a statement as follows:

?The dome edifice at 94 Fowler Street has for five decades served as the spiritual focal point of the Dorchester community. As the Jewish population in the Dorchester area began to increase in the first decade of the twentieth century, a group of high-minded traditional Jews gathered to form the nucleus of a new Synagogue in the Franklin Park area, which they called Beth El of Dorchester. Through their ceaseless efforts, and generosity and with the nickels, dimes and quarters collected from the Jews of the area, a beautiful and impressive structure was erected. The first Services were held on Shabbos Hagodol, the Sabbath preceding the Passover Holidays, April 8, 1911. Nothing was spared to make the sanctuary the imposing and inspiring haven of Jewish spirit that it has been through the years. Both the form and the spirit of Judaism was captured in the majestic lines of construction and the warmth of friendship in its circular pews. Those who have entered its precincts have been impressed and uplifted by the serene dignity of its surrounds.

?Beth El of Dorchester has completed fifty years of extraordinary service to the Dorchester area and the Greater Boston Jewish Community. Both the sanctuary and the spirit of traditional Judaism which Beth El upheld throughout the years, have defied the ravages of time. Maintained with loving care throughout the years by its devoted children, Beth El has remained young in body and in spirit and continues its vital role in the Religious life of the Jewish community of Dorchester.? [List of 333 founding members included Morris K. Leventhal and S.H. White]

Fowler Street Shul
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 Text of

?Wrecker?s ball aimed at an old Boston shul: Jewish community absent from City Hall proceedings?

by Michael Gelbwasser, published in The Jewish Advocate, Nov. 13, 1997.

Dorchester ? Eighty-six years ago this fall, a neoclassical building at 94 Fowler St. in Boston?s Dorchester neighborhood was animated by the sound of Jews praying in its large circular sanctuary.

Within the next few weeks, the only sound emanating from the site will be that of a wrecker?s ball demolishing the deteriorating shell of the synagogue, the former home of what is now Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel in Newton.

Unlike the stir of a few years ago when local Jews launched a campaign to raise $2.5 million to begin restoring the Vilna Shul on Boston?s Beacon Hill and transform it into a cultural center, the Jewish community appears to be silently surrendering the Fowler Street Shul ? the ?first regular built synagogue? in Dorhcester, The Jewish Advocate reported in 1910.

Last Tuesday, at Boston City Hall, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted to authorize Inspectional Services Commissioner John Eade to issue a permit to the Department of Neighborhood Development to raze the shul. Before voting, the commission accepted public comments on the DND?s application for the permit.

No one from the Jewish community attended the hearing. The only Jewish leader who commented?in writing?was Ellen Smith, curator of the American Jewish Historical Society in Waltham.

A letter from Smith to the commission was read into the meeting?s minutes. In her letter, she noted the shul?s significance to the community but said that she understood the building had deteriorated beyond repair. She also asked the commission to consider requiring, in its decision on the DND?s application, that the department permit the salvaging and recording of the synagogue?s interior and exterior characteristics through photographs and/or measured drawings.

After the meeting, Smith told the advocate that ?virtually everything? of importance to Beth El was removed from the shul when the congregation left it in the late 1960s. She said the historical society is interested in salvaging pieces of the building that ?capture? its ?texture and charm.? The society wants to preserve those items as part f the shul?s ?historical record,? she said.

The commission included Smith?s suggestions in its ruling. In a Nov. 3 letter to DND senior project manager Fouad Hamzeh, commission staff architect Michael A. Cannizzo said that the commission has voted to require the DND to work with the BLC and the historical society on three projects designed to recognize the shul?s place in Boston?s history.

The first project would be the creation of a ?documentary record? of the shul, including such items as measured drawings of the site and black-and-white photographs of the exterior elevations.

Also, the agencies must identify and salvage ?significant interior and exterior details from the building.? Those items would be donated to the historical society.

In addition, the agencies and other ?interested historical associations? will try to ?identify and install an appropriate commemorative element? on the property, Cannizzo wrote.

?Too far deteriorated?

The BLC reviewed the DND?s permit application under Boston?s so-called demolition delay policy. The policy, part of the city?s zoning code, allows the commission to review all applications for the demolition of structures that meet various age and significance criteria.

Under the policy, the commission must hold a public hearing on the demolition application. The commission can then invoke a 90-dayt waiting period to determined if alternatives to demolition are feasible.

In this case, the commissioners, Hamzeh and the community members at the public hearing unanimously agreed that the shul, designed by South Boston architect John A. Hasty, had fallen into such disrepair that trying to restore it would not be cost-effective. Hamzeh estimated the cost of rehabilitating the building at $1 million.

?Temple Beth El as a building had a life and will have to be razed,? Jamaica Plain resident Richard Heath told the commission. ?It is too far deteriorated to be saved. A 90-day demolition delay will not rebuild the former temple building.?

Dorchester resident Margaret Bates, who said that she has lived in the neighborhood since 1963, testified at the hearing that the former synagogue has become a haven for drug dealers and other trespassers. The building has been vacant since the mid 1980s.

The city took over the 16,380 square-foot site earlier this year after the Church of God and Saints of Christ in Roxbury, which, according to public records, purchased the shul in 1976, failed to pay taxes on it.

?It is a safety hazard for everyone who lives around there,? Bates said.

A fitting response

Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said Tuesday that her agency has not been involved in trying to revitalize the shul because Beth El members had not contacted the JCRC.

?If Congregation Beth El in Newton wanted us to engage [in restoring the shul] in any shape or for, we would be glad to,? she said.

Kaufman added that it was not ?appropriate? to participate otherwise because the structure has not been part of the Jewish community since Beth El left for Newton 30 years ago.

Kaufman said that the historical society?s efforts to preserve a historical record of the building was the most fitting response from the community.

Calls to Beth El, now located on Ward Street in Newton, and to Rabbi Gershon Segal, the congregation?s spiritual leader, were not returned by press time.

Fowler Street Shul measured drawing
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 Measured drawing of the Fowler Street Shul, Nov. 4, 1997, by Richard Heath.

Fowler Street Shul
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 Fowler Street Shul, March 16, 1991

Fowler Street Shul
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 Fowler Street Shul, March 16, 1991

Fowler Street Shul
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 Fowler Street Shul, March 16, 1991

Fowler Street Shul
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 Fowler Street Shul, March 16, 1991

94A 94B Fowler Street
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 94A and 94B Fowler Street, built to replace the Fowler Street Shul in a photograph dated June 30, 2000. These houses were built by the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation with architect Bruce Hampton of Green Village Co.

Fowler Street Shul
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 Photograph of 94 Fowler Street showing the concrete steps and retaining wall left after the demolition of the Fowler Street Shul.

Fowler Street Shul plaque
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 Plaque commemorating the Fowler Street Shul and Congregation Beth El.

Fowler Street Shul location map
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 Detail of map from the City of Boston's website showing the former location of the Fowler Street Shul at 94 Fowler Street.

Readers' Comments
 Readers' Comments

Jim Cooke forwarded the following:

I sent today's illustration [of the Fowler Street Shul] to Len Zola -- he is a retired media / voice over / radio guy. I thought he would be interested; he wrote:

<< I knew of it but never saw it. Had a cousin who lived on the same street and was likely a member. It was never referred to among us by its formal name -- only as "The Fowler Street Shul", as was then customary. I have lost a couple of synagogue shots I took four years ago, one of the former Temple Beth Hillel on Morton street, now a 7th Day Adventist school attended by an all-Black populace clad in the equivalent of Parochial school uniforms (plaids), and the one around the corner on Norfolk Street at Middleton, which was co-founded by my father and where I was Bar Mitzvah, which became a Baptist Church several decades ago and now has an obscenely huge cross on its front. It was a Sephardic (Spanish-Mediterranean based Jews) Orthodox shul called Congregation Beth Jacob. There was no Rabbi. Instead, like many of the day, was run by a Sexton who was referred to as Rebbe (teacher) or Rav, and lived next door (some similar small shuls had apartments in the same building where the Shamus/Sexton lived). >>

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Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 19 images.
Agudas Israel Synagogue on Woodrow AvenueSynagogues of DorchesterFowler Street ShulFowler Street Shul measured drawing
Fowler Street ShulFowler Street ShulSynagogue Chai OdomSynagogue Chai Odom cornerstone
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Created: July 27, 2005   Modified: August 29, 2006