Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation (1922) Dubin & Eisenberg, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Change. It's inevitable. Sometimes we create changes in our lives, sometimes change simply inflicts itself upon you. In the early 1880s a group of Hungarian Jews chose to leave their Eastern European homeland and come to America. They were looking to change their lives in a country where the streets paved with gold and settled into a people-packed, ramshackle Chicago neighborhood centered around Halsted & 12th Street (today's Roosevelt Road). Some joined-in with the throngs of peddlers selling goods out and along Maxwell Street, everyone scrapped by, and in 1884 they organized Agudath Achim congregation.

  [Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, 5029 N. Kenmore Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The move across the ocean paid-off for many of the congregations members. By 1907 they found themselves in a financially secure enough position to be able to leave Maxwell and Halsted Streets behind and build a 3-story, neo-classically designed synagogue on the northeast corner of Marshfield and Polk Street that cost the very princely sum of $50,000. The neighborhood around Polk and Ashland Boulevard was changing. Many of the original upper-middle class Protestant settlers were moving out, and the emerging middle class of immigrant Jewish settlers was moving in. At the time that Agudath Achim began holding services in their new home the Hebrew Literary Society was located around the corner on Ashland and Polk, and in 1910 Anshe Sholom Synagogue was built on the northeast corner of Polk and Ashland, a neo-classical temple constructed on a grander scale than Agudath Achim, and on a much more prominent corner.

[Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The 1920s brought even more changes. Many of the original Maxwell Street immigrants had moved beyond Ashland & Polk, farther west, out into the Lawndale neighborhood around Douglas Park, where they created the largest Jewish enclave in the city. By the early 20s some of those first North Lawndale settlers were already ready for a change and moved to the tonier north side. They established the North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel in 1918, and settled-in on North Kenmore Avenue not far from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The leaders of Adudath Achim soon saw the handwriting-on-the-wall and knew it was time to change addresses as well. By 1922 most of their membership had moved in and around the Uptown/Edgewater neighborhood where North Shore had just formed their congregation and a deal was struck, a merger created, and Agudath Achim North Shore Congregation was born.

    [Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Their one level building grew to another story, then another, they purchased the house next door, and 20 years later built a community center. But soon after the school center building was completed in 1948, change slowly began to seep into the community. The end of the Second World War brought the kind of prosperity those first immigrants had dreamed of, and with it changes that would forever alter the fabric of urban America. Low-cost G.I. government-backed housing loans, the ability to buy a car, and miles of and miles of expressways to drive them on, gave many of the members of Agudath Achim North Shore Congregation the opportunity to leave their "old" neighborhood and move-on-up to the suburbs. By the 1980s 25 years of economic decline had taken a toll on the surrounding area, and Agudath was changed to Agudas. The mid-90s saw a revival of sorts for the synagogue when emigrating Soviet Jews found a home in the crumbling interior. The original ground floor sanctuary was spruced-up in the hopes that an invigorated congregation would find the funds to renovate and restore architects Dubin & Eisenberg's main floor sanctuary. But with an aging congregation dependent on Social Security as their primary source of income, the upper floor of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation's synagogue continues to deteriorate, in the hope that things will change.

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