Historical Synagogue to be demolished

A century-old synagogue in Tuscaloosa is in jeopardy of being demolished. This house of worship was the first built for Tuscaloosa's Jewish community. This was not only the first synagogue in Tuscaloosa, but the second synagogue in the entire southeast. City council members say it has to go.

The building has significant damage, largely because of the 2011 storm. Instead of being a historical landmark, it has become a public nuisance. But the property owner is reaching out for help and hopes the synagogue can be saved.

"It an integral part of the history of Tuscaloosa," said Jim Lamoreaux.

Jim Lamoreaux is owner of the former synagogue. On occasion he comes out to check on his property and survey the damage.

If these walls could talk they would have 100 years worth of stories to tell. The most compelling would likely be that of Tuscaloosa's first Jewish congregation. "Many of the children were taught here and of course the families grew up around this facility," he said.

But years of foot traffic and severe weather damage have taken a toll. And the city took notice. "It was determined to be a public nuisance and therefore needed to be demolished," said Deidre Stalnaker, spokesperson for the City of Tuscaloosa.

Tuscaloosa's City Council made then decision in early October. "A public nuisance is anything that could cause damage or threat to the local community. It could pose a safety threat, a health threat, perhaps even a loss to property value to the surrounding areas," she said.

Lamoreaux says the cost for repairs adds up to some 48,000 dollars. It's money he doesn't have. "We would have to repair the roof and the wall and put new ceiling and flooring and carpeting."

But he hopes the historical value will prompt the community to take action. "We certainly hope that he'll be able to do something to rehabilitate and re purpose it. I think that's great for the city to have old buildings to have old buildings reused," said Hattie Kaufman, co-president of Temple Emanu-El in Tuscaloosa.

She says the congregation has moved into three other buildings since leaving the original one. Still, she says the old synagogue is held dear. "We have what we call a history wall and we have pictures of all of our former temples. There's a lovely picture in there of all of the members of the congregation and all of the children in front of the building and it's nice," she said.

But that's not enough to save the building. And frankly, the congregation doesn't have the money either. Lamoreaux says the city is giving him time to come up with money to make repairs. But the reality is his efforts may fail. "I don't believe there are any other Jewish symbols or Jewish items in there. If there are and the building happens to be torn down we would be happy to take them for safe keeping," said Kaufman.

Lamoreaux says he has been talking to the city about a no interest revolving loan program that was implemented after the storm. He says he may try to qualify for that.

A spokesperson with the city says there is no deadline set at this time for demolition. Lamoreaux says, of the building is demolished he would like to make a memorial garden with some of the original bricks, and maybe put a plaque up that would commemorate the synagogue.