City Council approves historic designation for Frick Park and B’nai Israel
PittsburghHistoric Designations

City Council approves historic designation for Frick Park and B’nai Israel

Preservation allows people to 'learn their own ethnic and cultural history, and learn that of others'

Frick Park is receiving historic designation following unanimous approval from City Council. (Photo by edenpictures via https://rb.gy/5s1bih)
Frick Park is receiving historic designation following unanimous approval from City Council. (Photo by edenpictures via https://rb.gy/5s1bih)

Two beloved spaces are getting more love. Following a unanimous vote by the Pittsburgh City Council on March 5, Frick Park and B’nai Israel synagogue will receive historic designations.

The decision will ensure the sites receive “permanent protection and preservation,” City Councilmember Erika Strassburger told the Chronicle.

Receiving historic designation doesn’t mean altering a space is impossible; rather, the label ensures “physical changes to the exterior are subject to a City review process,” according to Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning.

The designation also provides access to potential funding, Strassburger said, so whether it’s Frick Park or B’nai Israel, it’s important to ensure that spaces that contribute to “our architectural fabric and social fabric are preserved in perpetuity.”

With its nearly 644 acres, Frick Park is the largest park in the city and represents “an early and influential example of public-private partnership,” according to Preservation Pittsburgh, the nonprofit group that nominated the space for designation.

In 1915, Henry Clay Frick bequeathed to the city 151 acres of land — south of his home on Penn Avenue — for use as a public park. Frick also provided a $2 million endowment to acquire and maintain additional grounds.

The city was responsible for maintaining, improving and embellishing the park, and trustees were charged with “oversight of these duties,” according to Preservation Pittsburgh.

Following Frick’s death in 1919, additional land was added to the park by trustees during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

Frick Park’s history showcases a unique regional and national period, Strassburger explained.

“I can’t even imagine carving out that amount of space in this day and age for the preservation of nature,” she said. “We are so fortunate to live in a city that reached one of its many apexes, and moments of wealth, during a time when it was popular to grant money to things like parks, libraries and public amenities.”

B’nai Israel’s tale also marks another element of Pittsburgh history.

Located at 327 Negley Ave., the synagogue housed a congregation whose roots began in 1911, according to the Rauh Jewish Archives.

The Rotunda and The Carina occupy the former B’nai Israel. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

In 1920, B’nai Israel congregants raised money to buy the East End property and, in 1924, the synagogue opened. Designed by famed architect Henry Hornbostel, the space had a large circular sanctuary with a Byzantine design. In 1995, the synagogue closed. Since then, the building has been used for multiple purposes.

Last June, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for The Carina, an apartment community on B’nai Israel’s former grounds.

The intention, according to developers and community leaders, was to transform the sanctuary into a “multipurpose flexible space that is affordable for people to rent.”

“B’nai Israel is clearly undergoing a creative change of use that has the public in mind,” Strassburger said.

“It is such a beautiful building,” Preservation Pittsburgh’s President Matthew Falcone told the Chronicle.

Falcone has worked to ensure that several properties and spaces receive historic designation.

The purpose isn’t to put a staid marker on a fossilized wall. In B’nai Israel’s case, it’s “really important to have this kind of recognition because Jews and Judaism are threaded throughout Pittsburgh’s history,” Falcone said.

B’nai Israel is the second Jewish house of worship to receive historic designation. Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, another Hornbostel design, received designation from the city in 2022.

For landsmen looking to shep even greater nachas, Tuesday’s City Council meeting indicated there may be future designations coming for antiquated Jewish spaces.

Members of the city’s Planning Commission unanimously recommended that Beth Abraham Cemetery on Reedsdale Street also receive historic designation. If granted, Beth Abraham will be the first Pittsburgh cemetery to receive the designation, Falcone said.

Regardless of who is buried on their grounds, cemeteries often operate at “razor-thin margins,” which make it difficult to afford repairs and upkeep, Strassburger said. Preserving these spaces and gaining access to funding is essential so people can “learn about their own history, their own ethnic and cultural history, and learn that of others.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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