Built St. Louis > > MidCentury Modernism > > Emil Frei Stained Glass > > Shaare-Zedek Synagogue

Shaare-Zedek Synagogue
829 N. Hanley, University City - West County
Architect: Bernard Bloom, 1950

Stained Glass: Emil Frei Company
Artist: Rodney Winfield

An early Modernist effort in the County, this temple shows the influence of the Streamline Deco movement a decade earlier. Inside and out, it is the very model of Modernist simplicity and elegance. There are almost no extraneous details or ornamentation, and the main sanctuary is as crisp and contemporary as the day it opened.

Shaare-Zedek's primary glories are two sets of stained glass windows, a small pair in the chapel and a larger one in the main worship space. Both share abstract designs and a three dimensional component that is unique, yet typifies the experimental spirit pervasive at the time.

Two windows dominate the humble chapel. Rather than sitting in a flat plane, each row of panes zig-zags its way in and out, sometimes making such acute corners such that the glass surface can barely be seen by even the most determined observer.

The main sanctuary window is a tripartate design. A darker middle section sits atop the ark, with two lighter sections flanking it. There is a three-dimensional component to this window as well, in the form of angled fins set in front of the window surface and filled with unadorned colored glass. As one moves around the window, the view of the glass is ever-changing as the fins alternately cover and reveal the window behind them.

Several different design patterns fill the window behind the fins, including lengthy passages of Hebrew text.

The sanctuary is crisp and clean, a spare and elegant space handled with just the right balance of austerity and luxury. Numerous period details make it a superb example of Mid-Century design at its peak.

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