Thursday, November 17, 2005
For The Locals
I received an e-mail yesterday from someone in Newton, the next town over from Brookline. It seems that Shaarei Tefillah, a small Orthodox synagogue in Newton, recently purchased the ramshackle house next door, with the intent to tear it down and expand the synagogue to meet their congregation's growing needs. But the neighbors object to this, for some reason... and they are blocking the attempt, by trying to have the run-down building declared a national landmark.
Here's what the congregation has to say on the subject:
Last year, Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, Newton, MA, purchased the house adjacent to the building that the synagogue has occupied for the last two decades. The synagogue is a young, growing community in need of more space. The newly purchased building is a run-down, nondescript house long considered an eyesore by the neighborhood. Our intention is to raze the building and replace it with a new wing.
As you know, the Massachusetts Constitution protects the right of members of every faith to build houses of worship.
Prior to the purchase of the building at 29-31 Morseland by Shaarei Tefillah, the building was considered an eyesore by the neighborhood. After Shaarei Tefillah informed the neighborhood of its expansion plans, several neighbors, including some who had quite recently purchased houses very near the existing synagogue, voiced objections to the expansion. Because the building of a synagogue is protected by the constitution, the only way to block the synagogue expansion would be to have the building designated as an historic landmark. Therefore, in a cynical end-run around the constitution, a handful of neighbors suddenly "discovered" that the building they had long considered to be an eyesore was an important historic edifice.
The core of the house in question was built in 1780. The building is, however, is much-altered, utterly undistinguished architecturally, and devoid of historic importance - aside from age.* Should anyone with a sincere dedication to the house's historic significance wish to rehabilitate the dilapidated structure, Shaarei Tefillah would, of course, make it available for removal to another location, as is routinely done with buildings of actual historic or architectural value.
Please join me in signing a petition asking the Historical Commission at it's Nov. 22 meeting to reject the landmarking of 29-31 Morseland on the grounds that this is a transparent attempt to shanghai the historic landmark process in the service of denying a constitutionally-protected right to build a house of worship to a religious congregation in our community.
Therefore, please go to the link below and:
Opposition to landmarking 29-31 Morseland St.
- Sign your name.
- Provide your email, though your email will remain hidden and not shared. The petition host uses emails as a control for the credibility of signatures.
- If you are a resident of Newton, please mention this or list your street in the comments section.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this important matter! Our future depends on it!!
Rabbi Benjamin Samuels
Richard Feczko, President
*A property can be designated a landmark if it is:
"(1) importantly associated with one or more historic persons or events, or with the broad architectural, aesthetic, cultural, political, economic, or social history of the city or the commonwealth or (2) historically or architecturally significant (in terms of period, style, method of construction, or association with a famous architect or builder)."
The commission must consider several conditions, including:
"(2) that the distinguishing characteristics of significance are for the most part original and intact or capable of restoration"
See also a news article on a similar attempt to use the landmark process to block construction of a synagogue elsewhere in Newton.
As near as I can tell, the congregants of Shaarei Tefillah are acting in good faith. Please lend them your support.
UPDATE: Thanks to Daniel T. for geographical proofreading.