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Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania)

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Beth Sholom Synagogue
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Pennsylvania Locator Map with US
Red pog.svg
Location: 8231 Old York Road
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, USA
Coordinates: 40°4′56″N 75°7′36″W / 40.08222°N 75.12667°W / 40.08222; -75.12667Coordinates: 40°4′56″N 75°7′36″W / 40.08222°N 75.12667°W / 40.08222; -75.12667
Area: < 1-acre (0.40 ha)
Built/Founded: 1954
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Architectural style(s): Modern
Governing body: Beth Sholom Congregation
Added to NRHP: 2007-03-29[1]
Designated NHL: 2007-03-29[2]
NRHP Reference#: 07000430

Beth Sholom Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park. Its building is the only synagogue designed by famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Beth Sholom is Hebrew for House of Peace.

The building is a startling, translucent, modernist evocation of a Mayan temple, transposed to a Philadelphia suburb by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the few architects to work in the Mayan Revival architecture style.

In 2007, the building was named a National Historic Landmark:

"Beth Sholom a new National Historic Landmark because of its significance in the history of American architecture. The glazed glass pyramidal tower, built in the 1950s, reflects two dominant metaphors — the tent and the mountain — to convey the sense of a collective sacredness. It is nationally significant as one of Wright's most important commissions during his long and productive career."[3]


The congregation originally established its synagogue in Logan in 1919 but was one of the first congregations to move to the Philadelphia suburbs when it moved to its present home in the 1950s.


  • 1919-1964 - Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen ז"ל
  • 1964-2000 - Rabbi Aaron Landes
  • 2000-2003 - Rabbi Gershon Schwartz ז"ל
  • 2003-2004 - Rabbi Frederic Kazan (interim)
  • 2004-present - Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin

Current religious leadership also includes Rabbi Andrea Merow and Hazzan David Tilman.


The building was specially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who accepted the commission in September 1953. The building was completed and consecrated in 1959. With its steeply inclined walls of translucent fiber glass and plastic projecting skyward like a "luminous Mount Sinai" (in Wright's own description) and has also been cited as an example of the Mayan Revival architecture style. During the day, the interior is lit by natural light entering through the translucent walls overhead. At night, the entire building glows from interior artificial lighting.


The roof of Beth Sholom Synagogue at sunset.

In front of the synagogue, and separated from it by about 25 feet (7.6 m), is a laver or fountain. In ancient days, the laver (from the word "to lave" or "wash") was made of copper. In it the worshipers would wash their hands before the sacrifice and service. The lovely fountain with flowing waters that is in front of the entrance is a symbol of the old laver and is also a symbol of purity upon entering religious worship.

The main sanctuary is large enough to hold about 1020 people. The second sanctuary, which holds roughly a hundred people, is on the first floor of the temple. The main sanctuary was placed on the second floor for adding to the symbolic meaning that the people in the room are closer to heaven. In addition, this is the room with fiberglass roof. As with many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, the roof of the synagogue leaks.

The synagogue is a part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic society and because of that, the current owners cannot make changes to the building without permission from the organization. For example, the carpet, which is a beige color symbolizing the sands of the desert the Jews had to cross, cannot be changed without permission of the body. This has made updating the building for modern electricity and heating difficult making the main sanctuary very cold in the winter. The only exceptions to the needed approval was the addition of a chair lift so that the temple met with handicap laws. The floor plans of both sanctuary rooms do not allow for any additions or space changes required to accommodate members with wheel chairs.

The design is considered by critics to be the "most expressive" drafted in Wright's career for any house of worship. It has been listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 17 American buildings which are to be preserved as an example of Wright's contribution to American architecture.

Picture Gallery


Roof details


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  2. "Beth Sholom Synagogue". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  3. "Interior Secretary Kempthorne Designates 12 National Historic Landmarks in 10 States". U.S. Department of the Interior Press Release. 2007-04-04. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 

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