Back in May, The Orbit ran a story on a couple of really spectacular former Jewish holy houses in the lower Hill District and their new lives today. As we were cruising the old maps looking for info on these places, we kept realizing there were more former synagogues–plus one celebrated settlement house–that survived in the same general area (just outside of the old Civic Arena footprint). This begged for a sequel to the original post, and here we are.
It’s nothing like it was. Look at platte maps of the lower Hill from the ’20s or ’30s and the density of Jewish life in the area is made incredibly obvious–“Pittsburgh’s Lower East Side,” it’s sometimes referred as. The Jewish population seems to have largely migrated out (to Highland Park, and then Squirrel Hill) by the 1940s, but it was the colossal Civic Arena project that took out the vast majority of its remaining physical structures.
On streets that no longer exist, where City View apartments and the giant, empty former arena parking lot now stand, the maps show block after block containing tiny, often only house-sized synagogues–Bani Israel (sic.), Beth Jacob, Sharey Zadek, Gates of Wisdom, etc.
Those are all gone–along with (almost) everything else below Crawford and above Fifth Ave. But for a handful of former houses of worship outside of the arena project’s gluttonous reach, life has carried on in new and different incarnations.
The three former synagogues we located–Shaaray Teffilah/Beth David and Kanascis Israel on Miller Street and Lebovitch on Erin Street–have all become Baptist churches. The former Irene Kaufmann Settlement on Centre Ave. now serves as one of the non-profit Hill House Association‘s main locations.
This loitering blogger met a very welcoming member of the Miller Street Baptist congregation when curbing his bicycle to take a photo of the church. She told me she’d been a member for 23 years and encouraged me to attend a service some time. Despite her very warm invitation, I wasn’t sure I could accept in good (err…bad) faith. That said, I would love to see inside the place. Had I been wearing something closer to Sundaygotomeetin’ duds and not running late to scour the woods for evidence of insurance fraud, I might have asked for a poke-see around. But it wasn’t going to happen this day.