Local Frank Lloyd Wright Gem: Recognize this Synagogue?

In the Philadelphia area there is one structure from the master, Frank Lloyd Wright, and you’ve probably driven by it before.  Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park is a magnificent building and local gem that many people are unaware of. Beth Sholom was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March 2007. 

The Beth Sholom Center, designed by Israel Demchick, opened in 1951. Rabbi Mortimer Cohen had a vision for a landmark synagogue in which members “feel as if they were resting in the very hands of God.” In 1953, he sold that vision to an 85-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright, winding down his career with a 15-year wrangling with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to build its museum facing Central Park in New York, according to Hidden City Philadelphia.

The building’s dedication and consecration took place in September 1959, five months after Wright’s death, and one month before the Wright Guggenheim dedication. The signature steep sloped roof, made of metal, glass, and Plexiglas and mounted on a steel tripod, emulates an “illuminated Mount Sinai.” Its etched and corrugated panels allow for the diffusion of natural light into the Main Sanctuary, situated on the second floor with a slightly sloped floor. Original reddish leather seats provide seating for up to 1,020 congregants.

Regular tours are given at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, $12, and cost includes a 20-minute film narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Take note that tour schedules this summer may be interrupted by construction of a new elevator, so call ahead to be sure. All info regarding tours is HERE  

Wright was one of America’s greatest architects, and he has three works in Pennsylvania.

  • Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, (only commissioned synagogue) — 1959
  • Fallingwater, near Pittsburgh — 1935
  • Sun Top Homes in Ardmore — 1939