Our Building & Neighborhood

Our Building & Neighborhood

Our Building

The Beth Am synagogue building, a grand Moorish-inspired structure, was designed by noted architect Joseph Evans Sperry, who had designed such local Baltimore landmarks as the Bromo Seltzer Tower, the Provident Bank Building, and the Eutaw Place Temple, former home of Oheb Shalom Congregation. Sperry first studied the architecturally important synagogues of Europe. Many people comment on Beth Am’s similarity to the Great Synagogue of Florence with its three-arched entrance and Byzantine-Moorish design.

When the building opened in 1922 as the home of Chizuk Amuno, it was the practice for men and women to sit separately. The central section of sanctuary seating, main floor and balcony, was designed for men, while women sat in the side sections. Mixed seating began in the congregation in 1947.

The building has been painstakingly preserved. Visitors – and congregants – marvel at the spiritual feeling the sanctuary evokes through the interplay of light, space, sound, and architectural detail.

The modernizations necessary to keep Beth Am vibrant have been delicately incorporated into the historic structure. The building and the sanctuary are fully accessible and air-conditioned.

Our Neighborhood

Beth Am is an urban synagogue located in Baltimore’s historic Reservoir Hill neighborhood. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the residents of the blocks surrounding Beth Am were predominantly Jewish. Many current Beth Am members grew up here.

Today Reservoir Hill is an economically and racially integrated community, and Beth Am is an important participant in community activities. Beth Am belongs to the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, partners with the Dorothy I. Height Elementary School, and worked with neighbors in the Lakeside Neighbors Coalition to help purchase and rehab abandoned homes and resell them to homeowners. Community groups use the synagogue for meetings, voting, and social events. In keeping with the synagogue’s focus on social justice, Beth Am and its congregants continue to work in partnership with community residents to enhance a beautiful and diverse historic neighborhood.

The History of Beth Am’s Home

Excerpted from On Three Pillars, The History of Chizuk Amuno Congregation 1871-1996

By Jan Bernhardt Schein

Published by Chizuk Amuno Congregation ©2000


On Three Pillars includes the history of our building. Thank you to Chizuk Amuno Congregation for allowing us to share it with Beth Am’s congregation.

As enrollment in the Hebrew school increased, it became obvious that the McCulloh Street synagogue would not be large enough to accommodate the growing needs of the Congregation. [Its first home was the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Its second home was at 1501 McCulloh Street at Mosher Street.] With its classrooms in the basement of the building, teachers and parents complained about the learning environment of the school. A Ladies Auxiliary journal, printed in March 1920, explained the motivations of the Planning Committee:

If we are to make our children loyal adherents of our congregation, it is necessary that the Hebrew school and synagogue be properly located. For these reasons the Chizuk Amuno congregation decided to erect a new synagogue, and after thorough consideration of the matter by the board of directors and the members of the congregation, a site was bought at the north-west corner or Eutaw Place and Chauncey Avenue. This site is admirable adapted for our purpose, being located on a street of the best residential character, and away from car lines. The lot is large, having 106-foot frontage on Eutaw Place, with a depth of 150 feet on Chauncey Avenue. This will permit the erection of a building with abundant light and air on all four sides.

Announcement was placed in the November 7, 1919 issue of The Jewish Times that Chizuk Amuno intended to build a new synagogue and school. The editor expressed the feelings of the community:

No more commendable or noteworthy step has been taken in our Baltimore Jewish community than that which is represented by the project of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation to build a new synagogue and schoolhouse on a scale commensurate with its standing and its broadening activities. The enterprise is applauded by the general Jewish population of the city, not only because it is of a sacred character, but also because it shows a fine readiness to seize an opportunity to serve the Jewish cause as well as the requisite resoluteness and courage to carry the high purpose into execution.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation has been swept up in the national movement to recast synagogue buildings as multi-purpose synagogue-centers, rather than only as places of worship. Attendance at services had dropped, and there were fears that the younger generation of adults would lose their sense of Jewish life and religious purpose. In an effort to combat assimilation, congregations added social and educational programming to the schedule of religious activities in the synagogue. Services would continue to be traditional, but the laity of Chizuk Amuno envisioned a new synagogue structure designed to promote Judaism by offering each member of the family informal educational programs, clubs, special interest groups, and social functions. The synagogue would be a gathering place and unifying factor for its constituents.

On Sunday, November 2, 1919, close to 400 people filled Lehmann Hall for a dinner to formally announce plans for the Eutaw Street property acquired the previous spring and solicit contributions to the Building Fund. President Harry Friedenwald opened his remarks by reminding those present that Chizuk Amuno have moved twice before, and each time they had “carried our tabernacles with us and have upheld the dignity and holiness of our faith.” The task of stirring enthusiasm for the appeal was left to Julius Levy who informed the group that the new school would be capable of accommodating 700 students. Pledges of $75,000 were quickly raised towards the expected minimum cost of $250,000. The November 7, 1919 Jewish Times printed a list of 150 donors and the amounts each had pledged. To support the building drive, the Ladies Auxiliaries sponsored a very successful Purim dance at Lehmann’s Hall on March 8, 1920. Earlier that day, the ladies had treated the school children to a slide show telling the story of Purim. Both activities attracted a large audience.


Ground was broken on Tuesday, October 19, 1920 for the future home of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation on Eutaw Place. A small mention in The Jewish Times disclosed the “magnificent structure” was budgeted to cost approximately $400,000. The architect of the McCulloh Street synagogue, Joseph Sperry, was selected to design the structure and agreed to a modest fee of $5,000 for his services. He designed the building in the Romanesque-Byzantine style, with more delicate arches than previously used at McCulloh Street. Original plans called for the exterior to be constructed of Maryland granite and included a domed roof. The Mizrach Wall and Ark were to be made from various colored Italian marbles with the remaining three walls of solid oak. As cost estimates steadily rose, the dome concept was abandoned, as were the plans for the Italian marble. When Mr. Hilgartner, owner of the marble company, heard that his $43,00 bid for marble would not be accepted, he asked the cost of the newly re-designed wooden ark. According to an interview Rabbi Israel Goldman conducted with Mr. Leslie Moses [grandson of Chizuk Amuno founder M.S. Levy] in 1975, Hilgartner was informed that the bid was for $11,500. The non-Jewish businessman responded: “Your Sanctuary should have only marble. It is an honor for me to build a Holy Ark for Jewish House of Worship. I will charge you only $11,500 which is the same you would have to pay for a Holy Ark of wood.” Even with those adjustments, the Finance Committee, led by Meyer Abramson, had difficulty obtaining pledges for the mounting costs.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation celebrated is 50th anniversary on Sunday, April 3, 1921….That morning, The Baltimore Sun printed an extensive article highlighting the history of the Congregation…The Sun mentioned that the Congregation had 250 members and additional seatholders, which would mean that there had been substantial growth in membership.

As they looked back over the past half-century, The Congregation also looked ahead. Lay leaders expressed optimistic estimates of membership reaching 500, with increases coming mostly due to interest in the congregational school. From their inception, plans for the Eutaw Street property had always reflected a school building separate from the main synagogue. The purchased lot ran along Eutaw Place between Brooks Lane and Chauncey Avenue. While [Board] President William Levy was away from Baltimore for an extended period, the Building and Finance Committees determined that funds would not be sufficient for a separate school building, and that classroom space could be integrated in a single building. Without consulting Levy, the committees sold off half the parcel. Upon his return, William Levy announced that he would resign as president at the conclusion of his one-year term. Even with the downsizing, The Eutaw Place synagogue cost more than twice the $400,000 estimate to construct.

When the cornerstone laying ceremony took place on June 26, 1921, it was expected the synagogue would be substantially completed by the High Holy Days that year…. Unfortunately, construction on the Eutaw Place sanctuary was not completed for the High Holy Days beginning on the evening of October 2, 1921. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, services were held at the McCulloh Street synagogue, but on the second day services were conducted in the partially completed vestry of the Eutaw Place synagogue. Cantor {Abba] Weisgal often told of how heavy rainfall created flooding in the vestry, forcing the clergy to balance on boards placed as a pathway to the pulpit. Congregants suffered through the service, wading in puddles of water.

On the occasion of completing Chizuk Amuno’s relocation to Eutaw Place, The Jewish Times printed a history of the congregation in their September 22, 1922 edition. Commenting on the new building, the editor mentioned that they had been “informed that it is the most elaborate Orthodox Synagogue in the United States.” The main sanctuary, including the balcony area, seated 1,500…. Acoustical features were state-of-the-art. Vestry rooms downstairs were designed to serve as assembly halls, a Bet Hamidrash, classrooms, boardroom, and office. Located only one block from Druid Hill Park, the second largest municipal park in the United States, Chizuk Amuno opened its new home in a prime location.


Formal dedication of the Eutaw Place synagogue took place on Friday, December 15, 1922, the first day of Chanukah.