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What’s Up with the Construction on SF’s California and Webster Streets?

Under this tent? An architectural beauty.
Under this tent? An architectural beauty.
One of city's oldest synagogues gets restored and retrofitted. See a video of the stained glass windows being removed from Sherith Israel.





Like most of the Bay Area’s early settlers, it was gold that brought a wave of Jews to San Francisco.

And by 1905, some forty years after the Gold Rush, the congregation of Sherith Israel came to believe that California was their Promised Land.


In 1905, they built their temple on California and Webster Streets in San Francisco. 

Laszlo Regos
Laszlo Regos









"Moses Presented the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel."
Richard Mayer
"Moses Presented the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel."
Richard Mayer

A stained glass window looming over the sanctuary tells the story of the promise kept.

"Moses Presented the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel" is a pretty straight-forward pictorial scene. Moses has a great white beard and two tablets in his hands. Followers are at his feet. 

But look closely at the scenery. Can you guess what’s wrong? (Click the picture and it gets bigger)





Craig Etlin, a member of the congregation explains:

“He’s not standing in front of Mt. Sinai. He’s in Yosemite Valley with Half Dome and El Capitan in the background. It was an interesting statement. The members of this congregation who built this temple viewed California as the Promised Land.”

Sherith Israel dates its founding back to 1851. But some say the congregation dates back to 1849 when a group of Jewish 49ers celebrated Passover in San Francisco.

By 1905, the group that grew out of that first Passover Seder fractured into two: the Germans and the Poles.

Under the watchful eye of Rabbi Jacob Nieto – himself a Jamaican Jew – the Poles constructed the temple on California Street.

At the time, the congregation had less than 200 families but the sanctuary was built to seat 1,400 people.

“Because in that day congregations raised a significant amount by selling tickets for the High Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah,” Etlin says. “And if you had more seats, you can sell more tickets and that’s what gets you through the year.”

The congregation is raising $8 million dollars to do seismic upgrades and to give the temple a face-lift. Part of the money is going to restore the antique stained glass windows.

Last week, Art Femenella was overseeing the removal of the windows. Femenella has restored windows in the U.S. Capitol Building and New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

I caught up with Femenella last week as he was watching the glass from the temple's Rose Window being removed. Here’s the audio and pics of that interview.

The architectural photographs were taken by Jakub Mosur, Ellen Newman and Laszlo Regos.



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