When I walked in to Paterson, New Jersey’s Temple Emanuel, I thought it looked like a movie theater. One of those places that’s so ornate that even with some features removed it’s still impressive. My guess about the theater was close; the temple was the work of little-known but prolific architect Fred Wesley Wentworth, who designed a number of movie theaters including the immense Stanley in Jersey City–with which I had a connection of sorts (more about this later).
From the turn of the century, the Jewish community in the Paterson area grew steadily, with services held at several locations. In 1928, Jacob Fabian, a theater owner donated $400,000 toward the building of a new temple, to be built by his architect of choice, F. W. Wentworth. Fabian later provided additional money to build a Hebrew school adjacent to the temple. The school is especially significant as it still operates and from what I can see, is in it’s original condition.
As with many industrial cities, Paterson’s fortunes changed and eventually, most of Temple Emanuel’s congregation moved to the suburbs. In 1995, a new house of worship was built in Franklin Lakes. The rest of the story is complicated so I will do my best but feel free to correct me. Temple Emanuel was sold but with the condition that the original owners had the option to remove the spectacular stained glass windows. After a legal battle, this option was exercised and some of the windows were taken to the new facility in Franklin Lakes.
Plans to turn the temple into a community arts center didn’t work out and it is currently leased by a Dominican order, the Ministerio Familiar Restauracion en Cristo who are doing their best to maintain and possibly restore some of the temple’s features.
In 2007, Temple Emanuel was listed as one of New Jersey’s Ten Most Endangered Sites. For now, the building seems safe, though obviously not in ideal condition.
* My connection to the temple and F.W. Wentworth is that long ago, before deciding to concentrate on Art Deco architecture, I photographed the Stanley theater extensively, just after it closed but before it fell into disrepair (since restored by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) The Stanley was in a completely different style, so I never made the connection with the temple, even though I passed the temple fairly often. To my eternal regret–maybe that’s not the best way to say it, given the subject of this article–I never tried to see the inside of the temple when it was intact. I did find a small photo of what the ceiling originally looked like here. This must have been one of the most spectacular examples of Art Deco stained glass, anywhere. I hate to see you leave Decopix but if you didn’t click on the link in the previous sentence to see the ceiling in it’s original state, you really should.
BTW, I recently did a brief piece on the Stanley theater for The Handmade Photograph, which can be found here.
There’s a new book on F.W. Wentworth; information here.