A large, two-story mural containing Hebrew words and a Star of David was successfully separated into three parts and removed from the former Shomrei Shabbos Orthodox Synagogue in Washington, D.C., Aug. 14 to pave the way for condominiums.
“It went quite well. It was actually easier that we expected,” said Zachary Levine, curator at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
The mural first was preserved and then placed into three crates. It now sits in a storage area, awaiting its new display spot at the Jewish Historical Society building scheduled to be opened at Third and F streets, N.W., in several years.
“We took the majority of the mural. What we took were the original parts,” said Levine. “The whole project took about five working days, with the vast amount of time being spent on preservation.
“The mural wasn’t in perfect shape. There were a lot of cracks and flaking,” he said.
A curator specializing in preserving artwork was brought in from Miami to oversee the move. She placed a special compound and rice paper on parts of the mural to stop the cracking and then covered some sections with a layer of gauze “that essentially binds the whole thing together,” Levine said.
Removing the mural, which had been painted on plaster, meant removing 150-year-old studs, Levine said. “It’s kind of scary, believe it or not, if you are not used to this kind of thing,” he said.
When the baseboard was removed, a little more of the mural, including additional Hebrew lettering, was discovered. The new section contained parts that were covered in soot, a small strip in the middle that was cleaner and included original paint and a top portion that had been repainted in the 1960s.
The building, at 415 M St. N.W., boasts a lengthy Jewish history. Besides being a synagogue, the three-story structure was home to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, a Jewish Community Center and the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
In 1993, filmmaker Stephanie Slewka purchased the building for her personal residence. When fixing it up, “she peeled off old paint and wallpaper” and discovered the mural, Levine said. Slewka left the star and the Hebrew verse from Exodus 20:21, which reads, “In every place that I cause my name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.”
When she first moved in, Slewka hired an artist to repaint some of the Hebrew and add a winged lion to the mural.
The part of the mural with the lion was not taken.
The Jewish Historical Society raised slightly more than its goal of $20,000 to pay for the move.