An architectural and religious landmark is for sale in Cleveland Heights, where the Park Synagogue’s 28-acre lot quietly went on sale this month.
The domed synagogue sits on wooded grounds between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard and was designed by a well-known German architect Erich Mendelsohn. The striking building was inaugurated in 1950 and served as the main residence of the community until 2005.
Now based in Pepper Pike, the 152 year old community can no longer maintain two locations. Its members, like those of many of the famous churches and synagogues in Cleveland and its nearby suburbs, have migrated from the city over many decades, leaving behind important buildings that are costly to maintain and difficult to repurpose.
“At the moment we’re just trying to do what is best for the property and the area,” said Stuart Deicher, the synagogue’s manager.
“The final selling price is not the driving factor here,” said Deicher. “We want to know that the right thing is being done with the property. We would really hate it if someone bought it and demolished the building. We want it to last.”
The Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo Congregation originated downtown and moved to the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland in the early 1920s. In 1942, according to public records, the parish bought their Cleveland Heights land from a defunct school and industrialist John D. Rockefeller.
Mendelsohn, who designed several American synagogues in the last few years of his life, placed the new Park Synagogue shrine under a towering, copper-clad dome. The original building also includes a meeting hall and classroom wing. An extension from the late 1960s, which is connected to the main building by a footpath spanning a ravine, offers space for weddings and events.
The property also includes smaller outbuildings, one of which is rented to a preschool. An Orthodox girls’ college rents part of the class wing. Along Mayfield Road, at the base of a sloping, tree-lined hill, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City school district parks buses in an amount that has been rented by the community.
“The history, architecture of the synagogue, and natural beauty … make this place an extremely important place in the city,” said Tim Boland, director of economic development for Cleveland Heights.
The land along Mayfield is zoned for apartment building development, while zoning the rest of the site allows for single family homes or townhouses. The city’s master plan calls for apartments or offices near Mayfield. Most of the property has lower density apartments.
So far, potential buyers are considering educational or residential projects, Gimbel said.
“We already know there is interest in the property,” he said. “People turned to us and the synagogue directly.”
Synagogue leaders began giving serious thought to the future a few years ago after a poll showed members had a strong preference for the Pepper Pike location. Bellefaire JCB, a nonprofit social services organization, was looking to purchase the property as a campus for adults with autism. This deal would have enabled the park synagogue to continue using the sanctuary on major public holidays.
But the pandemic and renovation costs were insurmountable hurdles.
“Bellefaire has just realized that it is a bit outside of their range,” said Deicher. “We’re really sorry that was taken off the table, but we kept talking to other institutions and just trying to see who else in the Cleveland area could use it.”
The synagogue is a city landmark and gives the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission the power to review and reject exterior changes to the building. Federal records show it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building would certainly be eligible for such a designation, however, said Kathleen Crowther, president of the Cleveland Restoration Society. A listing would allow a new owner to apply for valuable federal and state conservation tax credits in order to raise funds for a redevelopment project.
“I can’t believe the park synagogue is for sale,” said Crowther. “It’s a shock and it’s not a shock. Its architecture is so significant. It’s so significant. But over the years it has turned out to be underutilized.”
Crowther drew parallels between the Park Synagogue and the Tifereth-Israel Temple, another Cleveland-born institution that moved most of its services and daily activities to the suburbs in the 1970s.
This Beachwood-based community gave their large building in University Circle to Case Western Reserve University in 2014 while the room was being converted into a room Center for the Performing Arts.
This project drew heavily on philanthropy, including $ 30 million from Milton and Tamar Maltz and the Maltz Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. An agreement with the university allows the community to use the building on major holidays and other events.
“This is the same kind of scenario,” Crowther said of the park synagogue. “So if adaptive uses could be developed to meet both religious and secular needs, it would be ideal. … The challenge we face as a community is that these buildings require investment – and one Uses that can pay off. “
In Pepper Pike, the park synagogue is preparing for the growth of its campus. Construction could begin in July, with the construction of a 10,000-square-foot extension expected to begin in September and take a year, Deicher said.
The project includes a new parish hall and an extension of the sanctuary on land southeast of Shaker Boulevard and Brainard Road. Voters in Pepper Pike recently approved a reallocation to make room for the addition.
Deicher said the synagogue has no plans to post “for sale” signs in Cleveland Heights. The marketing process for the historic area of the municipality will be more targeted and measured.
“We have been there for 70 years,” he said. “It really is a difficult thing when you are trying to consolidate your homes.”