Ribbon-cutting ceremony signals new start to former B’nai Israel 
The CarinaFrom place of prayer to place of residence

Ribbon-cutting ceremony signals new start to former B’nai Israel 

The Carina, a mixed-income housing community, begins by paying homage to Jewish past

Annie Weidman, Maxine Horn and Deborah Berkovitz stand beside The Carina. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Annie Weidman, Maxine Horn and Deborah Berkovitz stand beside The Carina. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Maxine Horn never imagined B’nai Israel Synagogue’s sacred space would shutter. Once it did, she didn’t believe it would spring anew. But on June 1, steps away from where Horn and generations of congregants worshiped, B’nai Israel’s past president joined a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 327 N Negley Ave.

Horn told the Chronicle that The Carina, an apartment community that will soon open on B’nai Israel’s former grounds, is “fantastic.”

“We have gone from strength to strength,” she said.

The Carina is a “45-unit mixed-income environmentally focused housing community,” according to Beacon Communities, the property’s owner.

Taking its name from the Eta Carinae — a star estimated to be 100 times larger than the sun — and the Star of David, which adorns the building’s facade, The Carina will serve as a “bright light here in the Bloomfield neighborhood,” Dara Kovel, Beacon Communities’ CEO, said. “We’re particularly proud to honor this history both within the Jewish and the African American community.”

The $18.5 million adaptive-reuse project is accepting applications for one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans.

The Carina signage. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Attendees of the June 1 ceremony were invited to tour a finished apartment complete with towering ceilings, wood plank flooring, large closets and a bright white kitchen.

Of the 45 developed units, 38 will be “income-restricted through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program for 40 years,” Michael Polite, senior vice president at Beacon, said. Eight of the 38 units will be reserved for Allegheny County’s Section 811 program, which is “really about providing support and housing for folks who need a little extra help.”

The 38 income-restricted units will be rented to individuals at rates established by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Ensuring affordable housing counters what often occurs with regentrification, Polite explained.

“So much is going on in this community, and people are always — and rightfully so — worried about creating affordable housing resources,” he said. “This is going to be a long-term resource.”

Deborah Berkovitz, Horn’s daughter, attended the ribbon-cutting and told the Chronicle the event was “nostalgic in some ways.”

“I hadn’t been on this property since it closed,” she said. “And to this day, I drive by and say, ‘Oh why, oh why, couldn’t they have saved it somehow?’”

Berkovitz and her sister Annie Weidman reminisced about their mother, father, grandparents and great-grandparents’ contributions to B’nai Israel.

“I know every inch of this building — every inch of this building — and I am so curious to see what it can become again,” Weidman said.

Transitioning the property into affordable housing is “the best possible outcome,” Berkovitz said. “This is a very vibrant community that isn’t always well treated in the housing area. And part of Judaism is to think about your fellow man and to be a humanist, and this kind of takes those ideals to the next generation of owners of this property.”

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

Although the June 1 program showcased The Carina, restorative efforts are also underway in B’nai Israel’s former sanctuary.

The Henry Hornbostel-designed space, which is being called “The Rotunda,” will feature a site for performing arts, community gatherings and events, explained Richard Swartz, Bloomfield Garfield Corporation’s executive director.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Swartz described the relationship between Bloomfield Garfield and Beacon Communities: Bloomfield Garfield has a sales agreement with 327 NN LLC — the Pennsylvania domestic limited-liability company is owned by Beacon Communities — that allows the sale of The Rotunda to Bloomfield Garfield for $100 next April if Bloomfield Garfield can successfully raise “the first $1 million for the project.”

In total, Bloomfield Garfield plans to raise nearly $15 million to restore the property and enable it to best serve residents, Swartz said.

The goal is for The Rotunda to be a “multipurpose flexible space that is affordable for people to rent,” without fixed seating, where “we can assemble 50 chairs for a meeting in the morning and 150 chairs and tables for an event later on in the day,” Swartz said.

“We don’t have a space that’s a gathering space for everybody in this part of the city,” he continued. “You have something like that in Squirrel Hill with the JCC where people can come together and participate in any kind of event — whether it’s a wedding, whether it’s a memorial service, whether it’s some kind of cultural event. We’re very hard-pressed now in the East End for that kind of space.”

Swartz said he hopes the ribbon-cutting event, and the community’s desire for affordable housing, “raises the profile of this project” and serves as the “start of a major fundraising effort.”

“I think there’s an interest in keeping this landmark structure. East Liberty has lost a lot of this over the last 30, 35, 40 years,” he said. “You can look at photographs of East Liberty in 1930 and 1940, and a lot of what was there then is gone. We don’t want to lose this building. Not just because of the physical representation that it is in our community, but also because of the historic events, the lives, the many people who came through this building over the years. When you lose all that connection, and that fabric just seems to disappear, then nobody really understands what is this neighborhood about and where is this neighborhood going.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at  areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org

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