Heritage Center gets historic designation

The site of Phoenix's first synagogue, built in 1921, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center is now officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the United States government's official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation.

"A listing on the National Register of Historic Places in and of itself is largely symbolic, but it does open doors as far as grant funding," said Lawrence Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), who received notice of the listing last week.

AJHS purchased the former synagogue property in 2002 and, over the past two years, has restored it as a museum, educational center and event venue.

The building, at 122 E. Culver St. in Phoenix, was constructed in 1921 to house Temple Beth Israel, the community's first synagogue. When TBI moved to a larger Phoenix location in 1949, the building became the home of a Chinese Baptist church, and later housed Iglesia Bautista, a Mexican Baptist church.

AJHS originally applied for the historic designation in 2004, according to Bell. It was deemed eligible at the time, which allowed the agency to apply for certain grants. The final application was submitted once the renovations were complete.

In 2006, AJHS received a $200,000 grant from the City of Phoenix to rehabilitate the center and, in 2007, $150,000 from the Arizona State Heritage Fund to renovate the synagogue.

"Indirectly, our nomination to the national registry enabled us to apply for those grants," Bell said.

Although being listed on the register does not offer protection to a building, Bell said, it does pave the way for city and state governments to protect it.

In 2008, the Phoenix Pride Commission of the City of Phoenix named the site as a Phoenix Point of Pride, which is a landmark or attraction located in Phoenix that contributes to the quality of life in the Valley.

Arizona's oldest synagogue, the Stone Avenue Temple in Tucson, has been on the national historic register since 1983, according to Eileen Warshaw, executive director of the Jewish History Museum. The building was built in 1910 and now houses the museum.

Visitors to the Cutler-Plotkin center may view the museum gallery's current exhibit, "New Frontiers: Pioneer Jews in the Arizona Territory," which commemorates the upcoming Arizona Centennial for the local Jewish community. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is a $2 suggested donation. Call 602-241-7870 for more information or to arrange a special tour.

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