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Pinch District - Historic Synagogue Faces Unknown Future

In the heart of Memphis' Pinch District at 112 Jackson Avenue, across from St. Jude, stands an aging building with architectural character and cultural heritage. The former Anshei Mischne Synagogue, built in 1927, was Memphis's first. It's a monument left by the early immigrants who made the Pinch District Memphis's first Jewish community.

112 Jackson Ave - Front elevation as it looks today

Now owned by Jack Schorr III, the synagogue has gone through many incarnations since it was deconsecrated in the late 1960s. Schorr, also the proprietor of adjacent Westy's bar, purchased this property with the dream of transforming the building into an expanding restaurant and entertainment venue. However, as time has passed, the reality has set in that the deterioration of the building has outpaced its potential for restoration efforts. Now, the future of the structure is unknown. Recently, I sat down and talked to Jack candidly about his hope for the structure. He told us he feels it "needs to be saved," and his "priority is to save the building." This means he is now willing to put his past dreams behind him and sell the building to someone willing to restore it.

Jack Schorr has come to the realization that if a buyer can't be found, he may have to tear the building down.

Jack Schorr III and Dmitry Ozeryansky discussing the future of the historic synagogue

Despite being deconsecrated as a place of worship, its significance as a symbol of local Jewish heritage remains undeniable, it still resonates deeply with older Memphians who attended temple there as children, and who take a short detour to drive by and check on it when they come downtown. Thus, the purpose of this blog is to urgently convey that there is still time to save this building if the Memphis Jewish community is willing to do so. But the time to act is now. "About two years ago," Jack said, "architect Berry Jones fought to get the word out, and several local Jewish leaders came to look at the building, but it didn't go further, and now the building is in worse shape." Sometimes, if a building can't be fixed properly and made safe, it has to be torn down. This is the risk facing this building.

I understood this property's plight when I was asked to provide a structural assessment and rehab design for the planned restaurant in 2017. When I walked inside, I immediately realized that the main space would make a splendid setting for social gatherings with its pleasantly proportioned mezzanines and great east-facing arched windows.

Also, as a structure, there is good news...

The cast concrete basement and conventional foundation are well-built and in good condition. The sturdy yet forgiving wood-framed floor still has plenty of capacity to support a congregation—or dance party, for that matter.

The rehab work that is needed is above the foundation. The wood framed roof, still adequate, is being rapidly degraded by leaks. The east brick veneer wall, shown below on the right side of photo, with tall window arches, and a poorly detailed stylized parapet design that allowed stormwater to infiltrate and degrade the brick, requires stitching, masonry repair and repointing, and anchor installation. The front facade needs careful restoration, repair, and anchoring so that its elegantly proportioned and delicately ornamented features can once again dignify and enliven a small Southern city street.

Front and east elevations

This work needs to be done by a team experienced in restoration, under the supervision of a sympathetic structural engineer, and with adequate funds to complete it properly.

Jack and Berry still discuss it regularly, wondering whether it could still find new life as a museum, a gallery, or a space for music, entertainment, and socializing. But they also realize that time is running out to save it.

If you are interested in historic Memphis building preservation, Memphis Jewish heritage, or the Pinch District revival, please get in touch with us for more information. Whatever happens, we will feel good knowing we raised awareness that this historic structure is at risk.

Dmitry Ozeryansky, P.E.

Ozer Engineering


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