23 March 2012

Beysbohl from Left Field

Chances are if you’ve taken in a South Bend Silverhawks’ game, or have seen any of the news revolving around the stadium’s overhaul under its new owner, you probably can’t help but wonder what that old brick building is doing sticking up above the left field fence. It looks like a church, but yet, sorta not.

The building is a synagogue and it is the former home of the Sons of Israel congregation. It represents in built form the rich Jewish history of its neighborhood and the City of South Bend. The synagogue was the first house of worship constructed by members of the Jewish community in South Bend and was at the heart of a once thriving Jewish neighborhood south of the downtown.

During the late 1840s and the 1850s the first Jewish people settled in South Bend. These settlers were largely of German origin. They first peddled goods and merchandise prior to the establishment of many successful business houses, financial institutions, and real estate developments. By 1878 South Bend’s Jewish population had reached 125 persons. The number of Jewish people in South Bend grew to 1,200 by 1912 after a large immigration of Jews from Russia and Poland during the late 1890s through the early 1900s. They were part of a large wave of migration by Jews escaping persecution in Europe between about 1880 and 1920.

While Jewish immigrants to the United States enjoyed acculturation in many aspects of social interactions and enterprise, the Hebrew practice of religion is what set the people apart from their largely Christian neighbors. The first Jewish congregation formed in South Bend in 1887; it was known as the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation and over time met in several locations in the city. In April of 1900 twenty-two Russian and Polish members of that congregation withdrew and formed a separate congregation called the Sons of Israel. The congregation purchased a lot on South William Street in the same year by raising $1800. The lot was in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood and was surrounded with residences. Construction on the Sons of Israel Synagogue began in October, 1901; some of the members assisted by digging the basement. It was dedicated on June 8, 1902.

The Sons of Israel Synagogue represents a more orthodox approach to religious practice by the Jewish community, most notably in its separation of men and women during assemblies by use of a balcony. The Orthodox congregation also incorporated a mikveh in the basement of the building. The orthodox plan is likely due to its founders’ Russian and Polish traditions. The building also maintains the practice of its eastern wall being the front wall of the assembly hall in which the ark is centered, facing the land of Israel.

The Sons of Israel Synagogue is important architecturally on a number of levels. First, it is the oldest synagogue in the City of South Bend and it retains a significant amount of its character defining features. Second, its design is a unique blend of the Romanesque Revival style with a form of European brick gothic design, and according to Chicago architect Robert Nevel, it is thought to be the only synagogue of its kind in the United States that introduces the Chicago school influence of architectural design. It also is believed to be the sole surviving synagogue of its simple scale remaining without alteration in the Midwest.

The fate of the now vacant synagogue seems promising under the new ownership of the Silverhawks. Masonry restoration is underway and the building is heading for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. I just hope they don’t sell ballpark franks out of it…….but if they do, they should at least be kosher.

19 March 2012

Dierks Bentley - Home

Lately this song has been striking a chord with me.  While it celebrates who we are, it also doesn't gloss over the wrinkles in America's past.  And what I think I like the best about it is the hope for unity in moving ahead versus the absurb division being pushed at us from every direction.

11 March 2012

Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company: the oldest link to Plymouth's industrial past is gone

Bird's eye view of the Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company (c. 1898)

I was spending a quiet afternoon at the home of an accomplished architect in Beverly Shores Saturday when phone calls started streaming into our home regarding an enormous fire that was raging in one of Plymouth's largest landmarks. The smoke could be seen in neighboring towns. This morning the hulk of a building was still smoldering, but it was indeed gone.

A later photo (c. 1915) when the building was used by the Abrasive Manufacturing Co.

Plymouth's oldest link to our industrial past was quickly engulfed in flames Saturday afternoon. The building had been recently used for storage and to most Plymouthites is no doubt known by any number of names, however, as a memoriam, I'd like to reflect on its grand beginnings.

The Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company was organized in 1891 by several leading Plymouth businessmen. Among them were H. G. Thayer (owner of the Thayer mansion), James Gilmore, George Marble, and C. L. Morris (who owned the Morris house kitty-corner from the factory). The company manufactured wooden novelties and was particularly known for wooden bicycle rims and mud and chain guards for bicycles. The company was also the first to invent and market "the famous one-piece interlocking joint, which is excelled by none and which has made the Plymouth rim famous throughout the world." In 1898 the plant was the largest of its kind in the world and at full capacity was producing 10,000 rims PER DAY (in the 1890s!).

The company had sales houses in "every principle city" of the United States and marketed the rims to foreign countries as well. It was estimated that Indiana Novelty was producing more than half of the rims used by cycle makers in the 1890s. The firm employed over 300 hands (whether that means 150 men at 2 hands each, I don't know!) and had a company payroll of $8,000 per month. The company was unrivaled in Marshall County and much of this part of rural Indiana for its size.

The company's own dedicated fire department building
At a bicycle exhibition in about 1895 this was said of the company "the exhibit of the Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company consisted of a full line of the well known Plymouth wood rims for American or English makes of tires as well as a complete line of handle bars and guards" (from Sporting Life magazine, Jan. 30). The firm was likely at its financial height when the owners sold the company to American Bicycle Company Inc., which was better known as the Bicycle Trust. The Trust was incorporated in June, 1899, and had $40 million in capital. It secured control of 44 plants nation-wide, including two others in Indianapolis (New York Times, Sept. 1, 1899).

The original two story portion of the plant (right side above) housed the company offices. The board room/manager's office had the most remarkable wood coffered ceilings I think I have ever seen. The plant was outfitted with its own fire department building in the southeast corner of the plant. As subsequent owners and manufacturers used the facility, additions were made to the north of the original building and to the south of the original manufacturing line, connecting the once stand-alone fire department building to the rest of the facility. Had the small brick fire department building still been isolated, it may have survived.

Thayer Mansion, Plymouth

The building, which at one time had put Plymouth on the world map, has now moved into our past. Pictures of the fire are here: http://am1050.com/2012/fire-destroys-400-pennsylvania-avenue/

10 March 2012

Political Menagerie

How have you been weathering the political storm during the course of this primary season? I've thrown together this little menagerie, which seems to be the right term, of thoughts.

Gone are the days, I think, when we could rely on true statesmen to represent us in public office. I had always put Richard Lugar in that ultimate class of politician/public servant. I've been so disappointed with his campaign ads born out of desperation for political survival. Several weeks ago Senator Lugar started his attack on President Obama-proving to his constituents back in right of right Indiana that he's no moderate. Then he started his attack on Murdock, maybe justly so, showing his absentee record to be something we should be concerned about. I think if Murdock was elected, he would be certain to show up to push his agenda through. That's what we should be concerned about.

Driving down U.S. 31 and across Highway 24 it seems that Murdock has either a real groundswell of support, or a few lackies from some campus Republicans' club that are doing their best to convince travelers of Hoosier highways to vote for Murdock. I think it's the latter....don't ask me why, but something about the rather regular intervals of "Retire Lugar" signs with "Murdock" signs placed on state right of ways, makes me believe the support isn't local. And someone should probably tell those kids it's also against the law to put signs there. I guess breaking the law is less important than getting out the vote.....something we see far too often around here.

I think I would have rather seen Lugar lose the primary and leave with his dignity intact than to appear to pander to the lowest common denominator of the party. But if we do elect Murdock.....well......we get what we deserve.

I had hoped Santorum would have won Ohio. Not because I'm a Santorum fan, but I'd really like to see an open convention this summer.....and there may still be a chance. It is wholly possible that the GOP may end up with a far better candidate if that happens. If your household pays attention to the news like we do, maybe you've heard this comment "they all just kinda creep me out". They kinda do, don't they? Romney is like a pompous Frankenstein, Santorum is like Howard Dean (waiting for the whooaaa-eeee-yahhhh), Newt is like, well.....Newt. Which leaves Ron Paul as seemingly the most normal candidate-and probably the most honest. Which evidently only attracts 10-20% of our party. That's crazy......and maybe Paul too.

My prediction for the fall: Romney will likely end up the GOP nominee (but I've said that months ago). He will go on to beat President Obama (also said that months ago). The reality is that it will have nothing to do with anything other than the public's perception of the economy. This was true with Carter, Bush Sr. (the last quarter of 1992 was on the upswing), Bush Jr.'s legacy for McCain, and it will be true for Obama. The economy, or the perception of its health, really, is the only factor in presidential campaigns. My grandfather once said "people vote their wallet". That seems true-for us to go from one extreme in electing Barack Obama, to what will be certain to be the other extreme in electing Mitt Romney. Not that either one of these men's policies are extreme.....but seriously, people thought President Obama was/is the anti-christ, and black nonetheless, and Mitt is part of what most christian groups would consider a cult.

And what is up with Rush Limbaugh? True colors folks. The thing that was more disturbing to me wasn't necessarily the names he used (it's like I expect that out of him), but his comments two days later. He actually suggested having videos posted online of women engaged in certain activities if they desired to have birth control included in their health insurance......I'm sure he was trying to be funny, I hope, but that should have sent chills down the spines of all my good christian friends out there who listen to this guy....and quickly, and finally, turned his loud mouth off for good. I used to listen to Rush all through college. I've grown up since then.

And this may not be political, but it did make me roll my eyes. When Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, offered $50k to the tornado victims in southern Indiana......did anyone else want to slap him around a bit? Add insult to injury a few days later when Peyton Manning was let go. C'mon Irsay-that would be like me dropping a nickel in the Salvation Army kettle over the sound of trumpets. If you're going to donate-great-keep your mouth shut with such a small amount......if you really wanted to use a donation as a way to spur others on to give, say you'd match up to $1 million. You saved over 20 of those by letting Manning go.....and Indianapolis will never be the same.