The Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation)

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The Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation)Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
October 23, 1989

1589 Peachtree Street, N.E. Fronting 298.1' on the northeast side of Peachtree St., approx. 320' from the northeast corner of the intersection of Peachtree and W. Peachtree Streets
District 17, Land Lot 109
Fulton County, City of Atlanta
Existing Zoning RG-4

Constructed: 1930-31
Additions: 1949 (offices and classrooms)
1959 (education building)
Architect: Philip Trammell Shutze

The Temple, home to Atlanta's oldest Jewish congregation (established in 1867), is set back from Peachtree Street just south of Interstate 85. Its primary architectural feature is the classically styled 1931 block containing the sanctuary, built of red brick arranged in a Flemish bond pattern and surmounted by a colonnade drum dome. This first segment is approximately square in shape, with its two front corners cut off, and sits on a base composed of limestone and cement-stucco. Extending across most of the front facade is a full-height, enclosed portico. A semi-circular porch, with a large lunette window above, protrudes from its center bay.

Just behind the sanctuary is a traditionally styled three-story brick addition of 1949 containing offices and educational space. A rectangular, three-story brick education building in a contemporary fashion, built in 1959, extends the complex to the rear.

The Temple, both physically and spiritually, is of tremendous significance to the city--first, as a major force in the development of Atlanta's Jewish community and in the encouragement of interfaith concerns and activities. Second, the 1931 synagogue is one of the best-known designs of Philip Trammell Shutze (1890-1982), perhaps Atlanta's most renowned architect.


By 1845, just eight years after Atlanta's founding, the city had gained its first Jewish settlers. In the next two decades, the tiny Jewish population started to develop a sense of community. In 1867 The Temple, first known as the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, began as an outgrowth of a local Jewish wedding.

Originally, one of the congregation's chief concerns was assisting returning Confederate veterans. It quickly branched out in helping both the Jewish and general communities. Its first children's school, known as the English-German-Hebrew Academy, was started in 1869 and is generally recognized as the direct forerunner of the Atlanta public school system. The Temple's first permanent worship hall was built in 1875 in the center of downtown Atlanta.

From the beginning, The Temple and its spiritual heads sought leadership roles, not just in Atlanta's Jewish community but throughout the region. In 1878 Rabbi Edward Browne began publishing The Jewish South as a regional newspaper for the young movement of Reform Judaism. Through the paper he sought to challenge the southern dominance of Cincinnati's Israelite,the legendary journalistic organ of Jewish reform. While The Jewish South was short-lived (it ceased publication in 1882), the Encyclopedia of Religion in the South has called it the "one and only real attempt to create a regional Jewish newspaper that would replace the sense of isolation with an information network fostering a sense of unity and mutual aid..."

In 1895 congregants created the Council of Jewish Women as a social arm designed primarily to aid the Jewish immigrant community, while it also crusaded for the eight-hour work day and the abolition of child labor. Also in 1895, Dr. David Marx (1872-1962), began a 51-year tenure as The Temple's Rabbi. One of his early accomplishments was organizing the Unity Club to promote interfaith meetings involving Presbyterians, Unitarians, Jews, and others.

Though greatly respected, Rabbi Marx took strong and controversial positions on various issues. He served as the personal pastor to Leo Frank, the Jewish businessman accused of murdering a Gentile girl and then lynched (1915) in Atlanta's most infamous anti-Semitic incident. For a number of years, Dr. Marx was a national leader in the anti-Zionist movement, which opposed the creation of the state of Israel.

Dr. Jacob M. Rothschild (1911-1973), the successor to Rabbi Marx in 1946, was a prominent advocate of racial equality and integration. His increasingly vocal attacks on segregation were seen as a major factor in the bombing of The Temple on October 12, 1958. Among the immediate responses to this was a front-page newspaper column by Atlanta/Journal Constitution publisher Ralph McGill, which was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The community as a whole responded with an outpouring of sympathy and Rabbi Rothschild continued to defend civil rights. He befriended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was chosen by Atlanta area clergy to give a special memorial address after King's death in 1968.


By its location, The Temple of 1931, the third home for its congregation, represents the outward movement of Atlanta Jewry from the city center, a progression shared with other Atlanta denominations. By its style and ornamentation, it represents a blending of assimilation and traditional heritage, which is characteristic of Reform Judaism. Its Jewish iconography is interwoven with the classicism which was Philip Shutze's forte. One sees this combination at the semi-circular entrance porch, which includes a frieze with Jewish symbols and is crowned by a shell-like ornament holding two tablets with Hebrew inscriptions for the Ten Commandments.

As a young man, Shutze, a native Georgian, was awarded the Prix de Rome in architecture, which gave him the opportunity to study at the American Academy in Rome. His five-year sojourn there confirmed him as a neo-classicist, as later evidenced in his residences, churches and other structures in Atlanta and across the southeast. Several of his Atlanta structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Swan House (1926-28) and the Academy of Medicine (1940). These buildings and others resulted from his practice as a partner in the prestigious firm of Hentz, Adler and Shutze, which he joined in 1926.

The physical attributes of The Temple grace its major historical and cultural contributions to Atlanta. Its leaders have distinguished themselves in their outreach and courageous stands on many issues. The Temple's congregants have included prominent individuals in the city's Jewish community, such as members of the Rich family of mercantile fame. Clearly, The Temple is the cultural landmark of Atlanta's Jewish community.


Brooks, Carolyn. (National Register Researcher, Historic Preservation Section, Georgia Department of Natural Resources.) National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Temple, June 20, 1982.

Encyclopedia Judaica. Vol. 3, for "Atlanta" entry. New York: MacMillan Company, 1971.

Hertzberg, Steven. Strangers Within The Gate City / The Jews of Atlanta / 1845-1915. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978.

Hill, Samuel S., ed. Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984. Articles on "Jewish Press", "Marx, David" & "Rothschild, Jacob M."

"Jewish Temple on Peachtree Wrecked by Dynamite Blast." The Atlanta Constitution, October 13, 1958, pp. 1+. (Joined by two pages of pictures and two additional pages of articles.)

McGregor, Laura. "Started in 1867 / Wedding Inspired First Temple." The Atlanta Journal, October 13, 1958, 16.

"New Synagogue Nearing Completion At Peachtree and Spring Streets; Will Be Most Imposing Structure." The City Builder, July 1930, 11.

(criteria descriptions)

Group I (1) (2) (3)
Group II (1) (3) (6) (7) (9) (10) (11)
Group III (1) (2) (3)


The proposed nomination of The Temple meets the above-referenced criteria for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.

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City of Atlanta
Atlanta Urban Design Commission
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 3400
Atlanta, Georgia 30335-0331

Tel: 404.330.6200
Fax: 404.658.6734

Doug Young


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