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Touring E. Stewart Williams's Mid-Century Temple Isaiah

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It's Palm Springs Modernism Week and we're touring a few of the beautiful buildings open to the public as part of the festivities. First up was Frank Sinatra's old Twin Palms estate; today we're going inside Temple Isaiah, open for tours all week.

[Photos by Elizabeth Daniels]

While midcentury architect E. Stewart Williams is probably best known for his bank buildings in Palm Springs (as well as his design for Sinatra's Twin Palms estate), he also undertook a commission to design a synagogue. The fledgling community of Temple Isaiah was founded in 1947, and its first home was completed in 1951.

The original building consisted of a sanctuary and community center, as well as offices, library, and a central patio. Materials were humble--poured concrete, cinderblock, wood ceilings, and brick. Williams's signature inverted arches, seen in the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan building (now a Chase bank) are present here--only once again turned right side up. The original ark was designed by architect Donald Wexler while Williams designed the menorah as well as the woodwork. The sanctuary originally seated 350 with a "social room" for 150 celebrants.

Over the years, some of the original design has been altered, including the addition of carpet over the concrete floors, stained glass windows, and benches. The hanging chandeliers are sadly gone. A mid-'80s renovation (paid for mostly by Ol' Blue Eyes!) added a new sanctuary, ballroom, kitchen, and an ark designed by kinetic artist Yaacov Agam for a swelling membership that in recent years has declined.

Today the original sanctuary is leased to a church for prayer services but the bones of Williams's design remains. Congregation members have plans to renovate once again to restore some of the lost features and nominate the building for historic protection. The question still remains: can a mid-century modern building be used to attract a new generation of worshippers? -- Marissa Gluck
· Modernism Week Archives [Curbed LA]