The early 1920s in Phoenix were busy for builders. Therefore, it is not surprising today that we have many buildings and organizations celebrating historical milestones. One of these locations is nestled between the Burton Barr Central Public Library and a few apartment complexes.
There has been a small but growing Jewish community in Phoenix since its inception. You may remember the various stores from the time such as Korrick’s and the Goldberg brothers and later Goldwater’s and Rosenzweig’s. However, there was no permanent place of worship for the Jewish community unlike Protestants and Catholics. Instead, Jews gathered for church services in rented spaces in various downtown buildings or in private homes.
In 1920, several local Jewish organizations were working hard to build a permanent synagogue and a Jewish center. The property was purchased on Second and Culver streets. With the hiring of architectural firm Lescher, Kibbey and Mahoney, plans were made to include a community hall, an educational wing and eventually a synagogue. When asked why it took so long to build a permanent facility, Dr. Lawrence Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, said, “Because they finally decided to stay in Phoenix. “.
The cornerstone of the Beth Israel Temple was laid on October 30, 1921, and the building was dedicated in the spring of 1922. Seven years later, the mortgage was burnt down.
The congregation grew from its beginnings with 38 families, then formed other smaller congregations, but never succeeded in building a formal synagogue on Second Street as originally planned. Yet over the years, the congregation has held services and other religious ceremonies, but also sponsored community events such as dances, carnivals, and even wrestling and boxing.
Having grown too large for the Second Street and Culver Street site, the congregation purchased a larger plot north of 10th Avenue and West Flower Street and built there in 1949, including a formal synagogue.
Nonetheless, the original buildings began new life as the home of the first Chinese Baptist Church in 1951. As it had done for the Jewish community before, this site also served as a religious and social center for its community. , the Chinese-Americans of Phoenix. Thirty years later, in 1981, the Chinese Baptist Church had outgrown the facility and moved on to something bigger.
Then the building became the home of Iglesia Bautista Central, a Spanish-speaking congregation that used the buildings until 2002.
At that time, the Jewish Historical Society purchased the building and renamed it the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center. The buildings now serve as a museum, cultural center and event venue for everyone.
Now that the circle has come full circle, the center and the Jewish Historical Society are planning a grand celebration to recognize and honor the three distinct congregations that have made this building at 122 E. Culver Street their religious home for the past 100 years. A free cultural affair with food trucks, activities for children, musical entertainment, a commemorative coin for the first 400 families and more will be held on Sunday November 7 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. A centenary is big business and happens once every 100 years.
Donna Reiner is the co-author of three books on the history of Phoenix.