Historic Structures

Adas Israel Synagogue, Washington DC

Date added: September 24, 2010 Categories: Church

The building was the first synagogue erected in the District of Columbia.

The history of the Adas Israel Congregation dates back to the years immediately following the Civil War. When the first Hebrew Congregation organized in Washington instituted certain liturgical reforms, the more conservative members withdrew and established the Adas Israel Congregation in 1869.

During its early years, the Adas Israel Congregation, composed of thirty-five families, met and worshipped in the homes of its members or in rented quarters. On August 16, 1870, the congregation's trustees recorded in the deed as Manasses Oppenheimer, L. Abraham Nathan Gotthelf and Leopold Oppenheimer purchased the property at 6th and G Streets, N.W. Construction of the synagogue was begun in 1873. Max Kleinman was the draughtsman and J. William and Company, the contractor. The dedication ceremony on June 9, 1876, was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant, Vice-President Ferry, and other federal and civic officials.

The building was in continual use as a synagogue until 1907 when Adas Israel moved to larger quarters at 6th and I Streets, N.W. The property was sold to Steven Gatti in 1905 and remained in the Gatti family until 1968. After Adas Israel moved out, the building was used as the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Sophia (now on Massachusetts Avenue) and then by the evangelical Church of God. From 1946 until recently, a carry-out shop, market and barbershop have occupied the ground floor of the building, while the synagogue area on the second floor has served primarily as a storeroom.

As of 1969 the building was owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and needed to be removed to make way for the subway line. A joint Committee of the Adas Israel Congregation (now at Connecticut and Porter Streets, N.W.) and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington has been working with Federal and District government agencies in an effort to move the building to a new site and restore it as a museum and headquarters for the Society. A tentative relocation site at the N. E. corner of 3rd and G Streets, N.W. has been selected and awaits final approval from the Federal Bureau of Public Roads which originally provided 90% of the purchase price of the land under the Federal Highway Act. This move has since occurred.

Overall dimensions: 25'0" X 62'4"; 3 bays by 4 bays; 2 stories; rectangular in shape.

Floor plans: After entering from the right bay of the west wall, one finds steps, spiraling to the left, leading to the second floor where there is an entrance foyer. North of this foyer is an office, while the main area of worship is east of the foyer. Steps continue up from the foyer to the balcony which is suspended over the main area of worship. The stairway to the balcony is at its south end and is enclosed with walls. A room on the north end of the balcony corresponds to the stairway. There is an elevated platform at the east end of the building. In the southeast corner of this main area is a wood constructed lavatory with a 6'6" ceiling with a flat wooden roof. Embellished double doors in the center of the east wall open into an apse. Also, there is a trap-door in the southwest corner of the area which leads to the first floor.