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B'nai B'rith building on East 55th Street

From 1912 until the early 1940's, the B'nai B'rith building on East 55th Street near St. Clair Avenue, was a Jewish landmark.

In 1912 the three Cleveland B'nai B'rith lodges - Solomon #16, Montefiore #54 and Baron de Hirsch #454 - merged and acquired the building, constructed in 1907 as Pythian Hall. The organization served an important purpose, bringing together active and involved Jewish men to address issues of Jewish concern.

The former B'nai B'rith building, looking abandoned, in 2007   Photo Arnold Berger

The building occupies a place in Cleveland Jewish history for it was there on Sunday February 24, 1917 that Abba Hillel Silver, only 24 and in his first pulpit in Wheeling West Virginia, spoke. Alfred Benesch, then a trustee of The Temple, was active in B'nai B'rith regional affairs where he had met Rabbi Silver, also an active member. Benesch may have invited Silver to come to Cleveland. As Benjamin Lowenstein, president of The Temple, would later tell Rabbi Silver, all the trustees had attended and knew immediately that they had found their new rabbi.

In the years following, B'nai B'rith's membership grew rapidly with 12 new lodges formed in many neighborhoods. The lodges were men-only. In 1933, Heights Chapter 119 was formed, for women. (In 1990 B'nai B'rith Women separated from B'nai B'rith International and in 1995 adopted a new name - Jewish Women International.)

In the early 1940's, with all its members living far to the east, in Glenville, Mount Pleasant or the Heights, the B'nai B'rith left the building. In 1954 the Prince Hall Masons bought it.

Some comments on the building's loss spoke of graduations and other events there. They had remembered a structure still in use located on East 36th Street, between Euclid and Chester Avenues: Masonic Auditorium.

picture: A.A.S.R. Cleveland website



Former B'nai B'rith building on East 55th Street lost by fire

Plain Dealer photo by Peggy Turbett

On May 19, 2010 fire destroyed a 103 year old building at 1624 East 55th Street in Cleveland. The media reported it as the loss of a Cleveland historic landmark - the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge (read PD story) - and it was. The building had been the home of these black Masons for more than 50 years. Two days later the remains of the building were demolished. Arson was determined to be the cause.

Plain Dealer photo by Marvin Fong

What had been a Jewish landmark as the B'nai B'rith building was lost to us.   


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