The 1880s were a time of heightened religious and cultural awareness for the Jews of southern Arizona. The Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society was formed in 1884 and twenty years later took up the challenge of raising funds for the construction of a permanent synagogue in Tucson. Financial support for their efforts came from Jewish settlers and others from as far away as Globe, Bisbee, and Nogales. On the twentieth of June, 1910, amidst great community celebration, the grand lodge of Arizona Masons laid the Temple’s cornerstone; inaugural services were held for the Jewish New Year on October 3, 1910. as the city grew, the original congregation (Temple Emanu-El) grew significantly and moved from the Stone Avenue site on September 6, 1949.
Thereafter, the building faded into obscurity, serving various landlords, tenants and functions. the Temple reclaimed its Jewish roots in 1982 at a ceremony sponsored by the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission, the Arizona Heritage Center, and the southern Arizona chapter of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. At that time, tri-lingual brass plaques (Hebrew, Spanish, and English) were erected and plans were made for rehabilation and preservation. In 1998 the building was saved from demolition. The buildings historic preservation was completed in 2007 and the Jewish History Museum was opened in January 2008.
Built in 1910, the Jewish History Museum (Historic Stone Avenue Temple) was the first Jewish house of worship established in the Arizona Territory. It is located in the downtown area and is within the Barrio Libre National Historic Area in Tucson, Arizona. The Temple was an integral part of the religious corridor that developed along Stone Avenue between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Built before Arizona achieved statehood, it served as an important center of Jewish community for the entire southwest.
This post card is the earliest picture that we know of of the building, known as the "Jewish Church". It is a watercolor rendering done for the Kress Company in 1914. The S.S. Kress Company of "Five & Dime" fame hired local artists to paint pictures of prominent buildings in the various cities around the US. and then they made them into postcards to sell in those cities.
Some Facts On the Architecture of The JHC
The Jewish History Museum is a simple, small rectangular brick structure. Its twin domes are architecturally suggestive of Tucson’s San Xavier mission (1783) and Saint Augustine Catholic Cathedral (1889). Many of its design elements are reflective of classical revival style civic buildings. The facade was stuccoed (circa 1937) as part of a general beautifying effort. The facade windows were originally stained glass and consist of a single arch flanked by double arches symbolic of the ten commandments. The sanctuary space is a single room with wooden floors, two-story ceiling height, and a raised, half-oval pulpit at the front. On march 1, 1998, this space was named the Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray historic sanctuary in honor of the last Rabbi that officiated there.
Open to the public Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1 to 5 PM.
Friday from Noon to 3 PM.
The Mission of the Jewish History Museum is the collection, preservation, exhibition and teaching of the Jewish heritage of the American Southwest and the preservation of the first synagogue building in Arizona.