Temple Sinai Is Demolished

Temple Sinai was demolished in 1977 and replaced with a parking lot despite public outcry and the Historic District Landmarks Commission’s efforts to protect it.

An 1885 guide to New Orleans proclaimed that

Temple Sinai, Jewish, a graceful and most imposing structure, is situated on Carondelet, between Delord and Calliope streets, and is, without a doubt, the most beautiful edifice of the kind in the United States, combining grandeur with simplicity so appropriately that the beholder is charmed.¹

The synagogue was constructed in 1871-72 for a newly established Reform congregation that included some of the city’s wealthiest Jewish citizens.² Designed by local architect Charles Lewis Hilger, it was prominently sited near Lee Circle, and its twin Byzantine-style towers could be seen from miles away.³ In 1928, the Temple Sinai congregation moved to a new temple Uptown on St. Charles Avenue and Calhoun Street and sold its old building to the Knights of Pythias.⁴ The Motion Picture Advertising Company purchased and remodeled the structure to serve as its headquarters in the 1930s.⁵

In 1977, owner Katz and Besthoff Inc., whose modern K&B Plaza is adjacent to the site, was issued a permit to demolish Temple Sinai and in July began removing the roof. In response, the nascent Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) issued a stop-work order because the temple had been nominated for local landmark status, and numerous preservation groups and local architects also protested the demolition.⁶ Yet, when the owners then filed suit against the City, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff and Temple Sinai was destroyed.⁷ Bruised by this major architectural loss, the HDLC soon successfully designated several local landmarks in order to protect them from a similar fate, including the nearby St. John the Baptist Church, Howard Memorial Library, and Confederate Memorial Hall.

 

1. William Head Coleman, Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs (New York: Will H. Coleman, 1885), 69.

2. Emily Ford and Barry Stiefel, The Jews of New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta: A History of Life & Community Along the Bayou (Charleston: The History Press, 2012), 83.

3. Christine Moe, “Temple Sinai,” Preservation Press 4 no. 1 (Oct 1977): 6.

4.  “New Temple Sinai Dedicated in Rite by Congregation,” The Times-Picayune, November 3, 1928.

5. “Old Temple Sinai to be Remodeled for New Tenants,” The Times-Picayune, May 6, 1936.

6. Joyce Davis Robinson and Frank Washington, “Groups Oppose Temple Sinai Demolition,” The Times-Picayune, July 3, 1977.

7. Moe, “Temple Sinai.”

 

Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research

Korn, Bertram Wallace. The Early Jews of New Orleans. Waltham, MA: American Jewish Historic Society, 1969.

Temple Sinai Records. Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.

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