Shul at Famed Prison Now Getting a Much-Needed Facelift


The synagogue at Eastern State Penitentiary, which fell into ruin and was forgotten about when the prison was abandoned in the 1970s, is well on the road to full restoration.

The project, which began this past spring, is more than halfway complete, reported Sally Elk, executive director of the historic prison, located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue.

"It's really amazing how things have been progressing," noted Elk.

Weekly e-mail updates sent to the projects' benefactors and supporters have showcased the efforts of the crew from the conservation firm, Milner + Carr studio.

One recent update showed conservator Gordon Sutherland working on some of the cornice detail, with a large Star of David visible on the ceiling. The reconstruction of the star was based on a surviving corner of the original ceiling, that was found in the debris during excavation work in 2004.

In addition, decorative painter David Rice is reproducing the ornamental Ten Commandments that once graced the front of the ark. Rice's work has been based on photographic images discovered during research on the history of the shul, and rabbis were consulted regarding the calligraphy used.

Elk said that the goal is to have the shul project completed by the middle of October, with a rededication planned for next spring. 


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