Steve Schorr wanted to digitally preserve Beth Sholom Congregation. A good reason for scanning the famous synagogue designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright? See: Superstorm Sandy.
If a building is damaged or destroyed, a three-dimensional model could prove invaluable in restoration or rebuilding efforts, Schorr said. The president of DJS Associates, which conducted the laser scan at no cost to the synagogue, Schorr also wanted to allow the world to see the digital model of the building in an online database of historic sites.
But Beth Sholom leaders had some security concerns about that part of Schorr’s plan. The reason? Think the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
“After Sandy Hook, we all know there has been a huge amount of emotion and effort invested in the issue of building safety,” Beth Sholom president Shelley Hittinger said. “As an institution in the community, and particularly as a Jewish institution, it is incumbent on us to act prudently and to take into consideration the safety of all who enter the building.”
In the end, both parties had “God-forbid” scenarios that framed at least part of their thinking. After negotiations among Schorr’s DJS Associates, CyArk, a Bay Area nonprofit that digitally preserves historic sites, and Beth Sholom officials, the parties reached an agreement earlier this year to provide CyArk with the data for preservation but to allow only a limited amount of content online at Archive.cyark.org.
In early November, DJS and CyArk employees hauled a high definition laser scanner — or as Schorr describes it, “surveying equipment on steroids” — into Elkins Park and captured the synagogue that Lloyd Wright designed a half-century ago to evoke Mt. Sinai.
The data will be stored in a seismically stable CyArk facility in Oakland, Calif., and at an underground facility in Pennsylvania operated by Iron Mountain, an information management company.
Schorr, a member of Beth Sholom for more than 30 years, said he considers the building to be a “spectacular piece of architecture.” He wanted to “ensure that future generations will enjoy the design as it was intended to be seen.”
CyArk executive director Tom Greaves said the organization has the same goal in mind. Over the last decade, the organization has digitally preserved sites such as Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Roman Baths in Germany.
Greaves described the amount of data that Beth Sholom is disseminating to the public as “very modest” but not unusual, as each site has its own security concerns.
For example, members of the Hopi clans wanted to provide digital access to historic rock structures in Arizona but asked CyArk not to include the exact location of the site to prevent vandalism.
“What the experience has been is that every site is unique in their appetite for how much dissemination, how much to capture,” Greaves said.
Beth Sholom was the only synagogue designed by the renowned architect and is now a National Historic Landmark.