Fred B. Shoken
Shaarei Tfiloh Synagogue
2001, Liberty Heights Ave., Baltimore, Baltimore City
The Shaarei Tfiloh synagogue is a rock-faced stone structure with large arched stained glass windows and a pedimented roofline surmounted by a central copper-clad dome. Embraced on two sides by Druid Hill Park, it is situated in a prominent and highly visible location at Liberty Heights Avenue and Auchentoroly Terrace. The main entrances are located in the northwest and southwest corners. A secondary entrance to the first floor is located on Holmes Avenue. The building is rectangular in shape with inset rounded corners. The first floor interior consists of a Beth Hemedrosh (study room), offices, two apartments, kitchen, rest rooms, and social hall with stage. The second floor houses the main sanctuary space which is free of columns and takes up most of the building. It features a classically decorated Aron Kodesh (ark where torahs are kept) set on a bimah (an elevated stage) along the eastern wall, a reading platform in the center eastern third of the sanctuary, and wooden pews. A balcony originally for women’s seating is supported from above and forms a third level along three of the walls. This level also includes rest rooms in the rear. Rising above the sanctuary is the rotunda of the central dome. Interior materials include: oak floors, wainscotting, painted oak trim, marble decorations above the ark, plaster walls, stained glass in swirling patterns and star of David motifs, plaster ceilings, and ceramic tile floors and wainscotting in the second level lobby. The building has undergone only minor alterations, such as wood paneling and a dropped acoustical tile ceiling in the social hall. The synagogue is in fair condition: the rounded corners of the sanctuary ceiling exhibit some plaster damage caused by leakage, and some of the stained glass windows are in need of repair.
The Shaarei Tfiloh synagogue, constructed in 1921, is one of the oldest functioning synagogue buildings in Maryland. It is significant for its association with the migration of Russian and Eastern European Jews to the major urban centers of the northeastern United States in the early 20th century. The orthodox Shaarei Tfiloh congregation was founded of such immigrants, and has remained in its original building longer than any other Baltimore congregation (75 years in 1996). This stability is remarkable in light of the rapid and comprehensive migration of Baltimore’s Jewish community to the suburbs in the period after World War II. The building derives additional significance for embodying the distinctive characteristics of early 20th century synagogue design including stained glass windows, a central dome, and a balcony for women’s seating. It is visually distinctive locally for its prominent location near Druid Hill Park and its high visibility in the surrounding area. Designed by Baltimore architect Stanislaus Russell, the building has all four sides equally embellished with stonework and stained glass, a departure from other local synagogues which have prominent front façades with more utilitarian sides and rear.