WIN: Agudas Achim Memorial Window Reunited With Family After Four Generations

The family of Mandel Schwechter holds the stained glass window rescued by Preservation Chicago, originally installed at Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in his memory. Pictured (from left) are Zach and Lindsey Deshur; their mother Brandy Schwechter Deshur; Beth Kraemer; and Brandy’s sister Darren Schwechter. Brandy, Darren and Beth are all great-grandchildren of Mandel Schwechter. Photo credit: Jewish Chicago

“It may look like a museum and library, filled with architectural artwork and volumes of history. But if Preservation Chicago’s office holds on to the past, it is only with an eye to the future.

“The organization’s goal is to save as much of Chicago’s storied heritage as possible, before it all becomes just stories. Fortunately, that includes the city’s long Jewish story.

“Having saved the Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation building from demolition–it exists as housing, if not a house of worship–Preservation Chicago now focuses on finding new homes for its Jewish elements. The organization’s representatives say they hope another congregation or Jewish institution will incorporate its vibrant stained-glass windows and striking Ner Tamid (eternal light) fixture.

“Working with the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, they also saved the bronze plaques bearing the names of the congregation’s deceased members. They cleaned and documented each one.

“‘It would be great for families to be rejoined with these memorial plaques,’ said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s Executive Director. ‘Of course, many may not be claimed. As they were all meant to be displayed together as a united community and congregation, [maybe] these could be displayed together somewhere now.’

“Miller has led Preservation Chicago since 2013–he single-handedly saved Agudas Achim’s Ner Tamid, personally carrying it down flights of stairs, into his car, and into his Loop office.

“After working as an architect for 20 years, at Vinci-Hamp Architects in Chicago, he co-authored 2010’s The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, and curated architectural photos for The Art Institute of Chicago. Now, his goal is to save more than just photographs of Chicago’s architectural treasures.

“Agudas Achim is a case study for Preservation Chicago’s work. After the decades-long effort to save the congregation failed, the organization worked tirelessly to match the building with a preservation-sensitive developer. They found one in Cedar Street Companies, whom Preservation is urging to secure landmark designation for the primary façade. The grand foyer and staircase, however, were preserved.

“Already, one of its windows has found a new home. Beth Kraemer, who lives in Deerfield, retrieved a window memorializing her great-grandfather, Mandel Schwechter. She wasn’t just pleased that the window was available, she said, ‘I was excited it still existed!’

“And she is very glad to have it back in the family. ‘Preservation Chicago had it cleaned, mounted, and restored. They really went above and beyond. It’s very special. I never met [Schwechter], but I have relatives who did,’ she said. ‘This window was meant to preserve his memory, and it still will– l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation). It’s a piece of our family’s legacy.’

“Preservation Chicago is now working to save The Standard Club building–which may become a hotel–to support the Chicago Loop Synagogue, and to renovate Illinois’ oldest synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel.” (Wieder, Jewish Chicago, 5/25/23)

Preservation Chicago was able to save many of the beautiful decorative, art glass windows from the once magnificent Agudas Achim Synagogue in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and are hoping to find good homes for them. Built in 1922 and designed by Dubin & Eisenberg, Agudas Achim was described as “the last grand Chicago synagogue” and was able to accommodate 2,200 congregants. Agudas Achim was a 2015 Preservation Chicago Most Endangered which played a significant role in ensuring it being saved and adaptively reused for residential apartments.

Preservation Chicago worked hard to save the Agudas Achim building from demolition. We were successful at saving the building exterior, and just before the historic interior was demolished for redevelopment, we were able to save many of the art-glass windows. Windows include the casement windows from the main floor, and smaller casement and arched windows from the balcony.

We were also able to deconstruct and save the massive arched window behind the ‘ahron hakodesh’. The mosaic ‘ahron hakodesh’ was saved. In addition to the windows, we were also able to save many plaster Lion of Judea column capitals, the eternal lamp, and the most of the ‘yahrzeit’ plaques.

Our hope is to find Chicago area synagogues or Jewish schools or Jewish institutions or Jewish philanthropists interested in ‘adopting’ these windows and other elements that are a beautiful legacy of Chicago’s Jewish community. Our plan is to donate the windows to interested Jewish congregations or organizations who commit to valuing and appreciating them. Our hope is for a donation to Preservation Chicago to cover our costs for removal and storage.

Per the agreement with the developer, the windows and other artifacts will be “donated by Alex Samoylovich, in honor of his co-founder in Cedar Street the late Jay Michael and Boris Samoylovich”.

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