Home > Holocaust~Shoah, San Diego history > Ohr Shalom in last stages of preservation campaign for old Temple

Ohr Shalom in last stages of preservation campaign for old Temple

Ohr Shalom preservation campaign speakers: Rabbi Scott Meltzer, Supervisor Ron Roberts, SOHO's Bruce Coons, Councilman Todd Gloria, and congregants Jose Galicot, Luis Maizel and Raulf Polichar

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–Nearly 100 elected officials, preservationists and business leaders from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border gathered Wednesday morning on the site of a historic preservation project at the corner of Third and Laurel streets in Park West.

The attendees came from nearby businesses as well those in Baja California to support the final fundraising campaign to complete the renovation of what is now known as  Ohr Shalom Synagogue, an iconic landmark of San Diego built as Temple Beth Israel in 1926 and designed by notable architect William H. Wheeler.

Luis Maizel

“Make it Your Business to Make History” fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Luis Maizel, president of LM Advisors, was created as a way to involve the greater San Diego community in contributing to the expensive restoration endeavor. Only $600,000 remains to be raised for the $4 million construction project.

Maizel applauded the congregation in raising more than $3.6 million to date almost exclusively from the 350 Ohr Shalom members, adding, “It is now the turn of businesses and neighbors to aid in this effort.”

Maizel used the analogy of a marathon to explain how far they have come.

“When this project was first proposed, we knew it would be like running a marathon. But 26 miles in a long way,” he said to the audience of who gathered in the courtyard outside of the building that is currently under construction.

As a crane carried building materials over the outdoor patio, Maizel said they are now at mile 22. “We are tired and we are sore. But we will finish this race with the help of our friends and neighbors.”

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria, and Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, along with Luis Maizel, president of LM Advisors, Raulf Polichar and Jose Galicot took turns addressing the guests, stating the importance of supporting the efforts to complete renovation of the architectural jewel.

Supervisor Roberts, a former architect, began by remarking at the brave efforts of Ohr Shalom to tackle the renovation project once it became known that the building was scheduled for demolition.

“I applaud those who favor saving, and renovating, important parts of San Diego’s history,” said Supervisor Roberts. “I especially cheer those like the Ohr Shalom congregation who actually go out and raise the dollars to turn a vision into reality. The entire San Diego community will be enriched by supporting the completion of this important renovation.”

Bruce Coons, executive director, Save Our Heritage Organization

Coons paid tribute to various community members who helped to preserve the temple building after Beth Israel sold it to developers Peter Janopaul and Anthony Block, including Polichar who led efforts to obtain the building for Ohr Shalom Synagogue and Jewish Historical Society of San Diego leaders Stan and Laurel Schwartz, who mobilized a successful campaign to have the structure declared an historic monument by the State of California and placed on the national register.

“For the last eight years, Ohr Shalom has proved to be an excellent guardian of Wheeler´s work, and their efforts should be commended by the community at large,” Coons said.  

City Councilman Todd Gloria

Councilman Gloria thanked the Ohr Shalom congregation for its care of less fortunate people in his district through a variety of social service projects, and for making its meeting facilities available to the general community.

“As a third generation San Diegan, I’ve seen many buildings in our community lost because of the lack of appreciation for their historic significance,” said Gloria. “This isn’t just restoring a building; we’re preserving an important part of our neighborhood’s history for the greater good of the community.”

Reflecting the community spirit of the project, Rabbi Scott Meltzer reiterated that the Ohr Shalom building will continue servicing the entire community as a meeting center and as a resource for the entire community once the renovation is complete.

“The intention is to bring the building back to its original glory. That meant erasing the footprints of time, but to also add seismic protection and water intrusion prevention,” the rabbi explained.

Continuity between the Reform Congregation Beth Israel, which is now located in the University Towne Center area,  and the Conservative  Ohr Shalom Synagogue was represented by the presence of Jerry Goldberg, an attorney who previously served as president of Beth Israel  and who is the uncle of Rabbi Meltzer.

“The painstaking combination of the old and the new was a challenge for Zagrodnik & Thomas Architects and Swinerton Builders,” Meltzer said, referring to the architects and builders in charge of the restoration project, “and it is evident now that it will be beautifully accomplished.”

Raulf Polichar, former Ohr Shalom Synagogue president

Polichar said that refurbishing the building meant undoing some of the “modernization of 1950 to reveal the original beauty.”  Additionally, the structure was reinforced for earthquake safety and to bring it in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.   The stage inside the old Temple Center, or social hall, was removed, and a small meeting room and new kosher kitchen constructed in its place.

Galicot told of visiting a museum in Israel where Jewish communities were represented by lights on a map.  Many  lights went out in the 15th century because of the Expulsion from Spain and Portugal and in the 20th century because of the Holocaust.  

Jose Galicot

But, now in San Diego in the 21st century, “here we are turning on lights,” Galicot declared.

Attention to detail and historic accuracy were of essence. All renovation work was approved by the Historical Resources Board at the City Planning Department and is in compliance with The Secretary of the Interiors’ Standards for Rehabilitation.

Guests were able to tour the restored areas and marveled at the dazzling stained glass windows and domed sanctuary.

Rabbi Meltzer in Ohr Shalom's refurbished sanctuary August 11, 2010Ohr Shalom Synagogue is one of the foremost examples of Mediterranean Revival, an American architectural style that caught momentum in the mid-1920s.Architect William H. Wheeler was commissioned for the construction of the property by Congregation Beth Israel, who initially occupied the premises.Stained Glass in Ohr Shalom sanctuary

Stained Glass in Ohr Shalom sanctuary

Wheeler delivered a synagogue with a classic Moorish style dome, high ceilings above a majestic sanctuary, and stained glass windows with medieval, Islamic and Jewish motifs.

Ohr Shalom Congregation took possession of the building in 2002, committed to preserving the historic landmark.

The renovation project began in January and entailed complete repair and repainting of the façade, a structural seismic upgrade to comply with current building codes, and removal of wood panels lining the halls, in order to reveal the original stucco.

The stained-glass windows were shipped to Iowa for specialized restoration, and a replica of the original raised- paneled doors is being custom made by hand in California.

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Preceding based on material provided by J Simms Agency, which is coordinating the “Make It Your Business to Make History” campaign for Ohr Shalom Synagogue, and augmented by event coverage by San Diego Jewish Press editor Donald H. Harrison

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