Friday, October 9, 2009

Atlanta Week - The Temple

The last post of this Atlanta week is fittingly The Temple, one of Atlanta's most beautiful buildings and one, despite its seat atop a rise located near a difficult intersection on Peachtree Road, easy to miss as one whizzes by.

Designed by Philip Shutze The Temple is not quite what the architect first had in mind - see b/w picture below - full-blown Baroque. The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation found the first design too expensive and perhaps too Catholic. What was built is modest in comparison and, I think because of its situation on an elevation, certainly seems modest in scale. Yet when one goes inside there is the delicious and moving surprise of the interior - one of Shutze's and Atlanta's glories. I remember the first time I entered I found it breathtakingly beautiful. I sat and just looked with wonder at the quietly rich imagery, historic references, such as symbols of the Tribes of Israel, couched in classical detailing, the great windows of red, white and blue, the fall of the light on the white walls, the gilded gleam of the Holy Ark, the Eternal Light ... as one of my students said when she entered "wow." A glorious interior with a sense of peace that is palpable.

Peace in that interior has not always been the case for The Temple was bombed in the early hours of October 12th, 1958 with about fifty sticks of dynamite. No-one died or was injured in the bombing.

From Wikipedia:

"Those who heard the blast reported a "loud explosion" to police and newspapers. A United Press International (UPI) staff member had received a call earlier that night warning that a bombing would occur, but did not take the call seriously. At 3:45 am, shortly after the bombing, UPI staff received a call from "General Gordon of the Confederate Underground" who said We bombed a temple in Atlanta. This is the last empty building in Atlanta we will bomb. All nightclubs refusing to fire their Negro employees will also be blown up. We are going to blow up all Communist organizations. Negroes and Jews are hereby declared aliens.

Rabbi Jacob Rothchild, The Temple's rabbi, was an outspoken advocate of civil rights and integration, and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr."

Not only is The Temple one of Atlanta's most beautiful buildings designed by a superb classicist who made his home in the city, it is an important landmark on the continuing march to civil rights,

Sources: American Classicist: The Architecture of Philip Trammell Shutze, E. M. Dowling, Rizzoli, 1989. Wikipedia. Photos: Timothy Hursley.


  1. Wow! What a building, and thanks for the story. We have come a distance from that time, but not far enough. That is one of the most redeeming parts of history to remind, to remember those who have fought the fight to make us a better country, to incite us to do better. Do you know the book, Sacred Architecture? I found it a fascinating read. I am using some of the elements in my modest garden. I don't veer to the religious, but I chose to honor what is sacred to me. Have a great weekend.

  2. hmm - is this the bombing that makes an appearance in 'driving ms. daisy'? What a beautiful building!

  3. Architect - it is the bombing mentioned in Driving Miss Daisy. If ever you are in Atlanta you should visit this synagogue. There are guided tours with some of the best docents you'll ever wish for. Look for the book on Shutze if you can, especially if you appreciate classical architecture.

    Home before dark - I don't know the book, Sacred Architecture, but I should. We have a capacity, it seems, to regard some things as sacred and perhaps it is a mercy that we do. I shall look for it online this weekend. Thank you for the tip.

    And thank you both for your comments.

  4. You can get a fair look at The Temple in Driving Miss Daisy.

  5. Was the interior totally destroyed? Is this picture an example of the restored interior? If so this restored plaster work is perfection!

  6. Anonymous - I don't know if the interior was totally destroyed but what you see in the photo is how it is today. And you're right, the plasterwork is perfection both in execution and in the way it illustrates a history and heritage.

  7. I went to a wedding here about 8 years ago, in my pre-blogging days, and had no idea at the time that it was a Shutze. What a beautiful place.