From The Construction Record, September 26, 1914. The building was put up the next year, and still stands almost exactly as Mr. Cohen designed it.
This gorgeous synagogue in the style old Pa Pitt calls Jewish Romanesque is fortunately owned by a church that obviously appreciates the building and has not altered its Jewish ornamentation. Father Pitt’s apologies for the lighting; the sun was from the wrong direction, but our cameras did their best.
The cornerstone gives us a date of 1922 (or 5683) for the building and 1912 for the foundation of the congregation. Temple B’nai Israel was the first Reform congregation in McKeesport, and the congregation still exists, though in 2000 it moved to White Oak. The Temple’s Web site has a timeline of the congregation’s history. (Update: The congregation has decided to wind down operations and close in 2025.)
The Heinz History Center owns a commemorative plate from 1962 for the “Golden Anniversary” of the congregation; it has a picture of the building, and a misprinted foundation date—“1902” instead of 1912, though the words “GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY” are right above it.
In the early twentieth century, the Hill was Pittsburgh’s most diverse neighborhood, and in particular it was the main center of Jewish culture. A number of buildings survive from the Jewish community there, though they have all been turned to other uses. This one, for example, is now a “community engagement center” run by the University of Pittsburgh. But it was the original home of the Hebrew Institute, which moved to Squirrel Hill in 1944. It was a school that taught Hebrew language, literature, and culture to Jewish children. The style of the building is typical Pittsburgh School Classical, but the broken pediment above the entrance frames a Torah scroll.
Addendum: The architect, according to a 1914 issue of the Construction Record, was Walter S. Cohen, who had a thriving practice serving mostly Jewish clients. “Architect Walter S. Cohen, Oliver building, has plans nearly completed for a two-story brick and stone institute building for the Hebrew Institute of Pittsburgh, Wylie avenue and Green street, to be built at a cost of $30,000.”