The Temple Israel Building

        At a meeting on August 7, 1884, "The board of officers of the Jewish congregation met...for the purpose of letting the contract for building the new temple."1 The land at 201 West 4th Street (the southwest corner of West 4th and Pine on what was then referred to as Millionaires' Row), Leadville, Colorado had been acquired the preceding July 13 when HAW Tabor conveyed title to "David May for the Benefit of the Congregation Israel"2 via a quit claim deed "all of Lot (32) Thirty Two and (31) Thirty One on Block (8) Eight of the Stevens & Leiter subdivision to the City of Leadville, State of Colorado"3.  The nominal price of $1 indicates that the property was a gift from Tabor, whose generosity was legendary and, ultimately, impecunious.  The Temple itself cost $4,000 to erect4.

        "A number of bids were presented and opened, the lowest being that of Mr. Robert Murdoch5.  The architect will be Mr. George E. King6.  The following are the specifications of the building: Its dimensions will be 25x70 feet.  The audience room will be 24 feet high.  The windows will be of stained glass, 7 feet high by 3 1/2 feet wide.  There will be a gallery for the choir.  The seating capacity of the room will accommodate 250 people.  In the rear of the building there will be a platform and pulpit and a handsome ark where the ten commandments will be stored.  The building will be lit by 50 gas burners.  The pews will be of modern style and handsomely cushioned.  There will be a vestibule of seven feet in front which will be nicely carpeted, as will be the entire building throughout.  There will be one main aisle leading through the audience room, affording easy entrance to and exit from the pews.  The contractor will begin work at once on the edifice, which will be pushed forward until it is completed.  The exact day on which it will be completed will be the twelfth of September as nearly as can be ascertained at present.  When finished the Temple will be an ornament to that neighborhood, and in fact to the whole city.  The building committee consisting of Messrs. Sam Mayer, Dave May, Ike Baer, and M. A. Kahn, are all go-a-head men, and our citizens can depend on their having the edifice completed according to agreement."7

        In fact, the building was dedicated on September 19, 1884, by Rabbi Morris Sachs of Cincinnati, Ohio, a recent graduate of the Hebrew Union College.  One supposes that the event was especially propitious as it coincided with Rosh Hashanah, 5644.  Unfortunately, David May, vice-president and chairman of the building committee, was unable to attend the 8 o'clock dedication.  In his place Isaac Baer presented the key of the building to J.H. Monheimer, president of the congregation.  Mr. Monheimer retaliated with the obligatory few words before releasing the pulpit to Rabbi Sachs8.

Temple Israel exterior, about 1894Temple Israel about 1894.
Courtesy of the Western History Collection,
Denver Public Library

        This new house of worship reflected the size and strength of the Jewish community in Leadville.  Of a population on the order of 30,000, Jews accounted for some 300 residents during the early 1880s.  They supported several organizations in addition to the Temple.  Leadville was host to a lodge of the B'nai B'rith, a Hebrew Benevolent Society, a religious school, and required a Jewish cemetery.  Jews were with the earliest settlers of the upper Arkansas Valley and while a few actually did work in the mines, stereotypically their presence was mostly felt in the retail trades and as professionals.  The stellar performers amongst the Jewish businessmen were the Guggenheim family and David May who went on to establish firms of national importance.  Jewish names were also associated with a wide variety of social, philanthropic, and political activities9.

        Reflecting the trend of the times, the first group of Jews to settle in Leadville could trace their roots to Germany.  They tended towards assimilationist attitudes and the practice of Reform Judaism.  This included services largely in English, women as members of the congregation, and the use of a choir.  Later immigration to America and Leadville included a large proportion of Eastern European Jews who were more rigorous in their religious observations and practices.  As in other Jewish communities, this led to a bit of a schism.

        In 1892 the congregation split with the more orthodox members electing to establish their own congregation, Kneseth Israel.  In 1898 they occupied the former Presbyterian Church at 119 West 5th Street, which structure survived until 1937 when it was razed to allow for an Elks Lodge10.  Rabbis were generally unavailable to Temple Israel, but lay leaders continued to hold regular services until about 190811.  The decline of the Jewish population in Leadville fundamentally reflects the weakness in the Colorado mining industry after America's abandonment of the silver standard in 1893.  However, the more aggressive members of the community had already decamped to greener pastures during the late 1880s.  David May's move to Denver in 1887 typifies this pattern of Jews gravitating towards larger cities.  During the Thirties, the congregation dissolved entirely and the furnishings were allegedly transferred to the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver.

Temple Israel exterior, 1929Temple Israel in January, 1929.
Courtesy of John Piearson, Leadville

The chain of title for the Temple Israel property since that time is as follows:

1) Sam Levin to Steve J. Malin on August 21, 1937, Quit Claim Deed.
2) Steve J. Malin to Anna Malin on April 29, 1953, Quit Claim Deed.
3) Anna Malin on August 3, 1953, Quiet Title Suit.
4) Anna Malin to Steve J. and Anna Malin on October 28, 1953, Warranty Deed.
5) Steve J. and Anna Malin to Bishop and (Episcopal) Diocese of Colorado on July 25, 1955, Warranty Deed.
6) Bishop and Diocese of Colorado to Sterling L. and Sharon K. Hartwig on April 6, 1966, Warranty Deed.
7) Sterling L. and Sharon K. Hartwig to James A. and Betty J. McClellen on August 10, 1971, Installment Land Contract (Warranty Deed followed on December 1, 1978).
8) James A. and Betty J. McClellen to Harvey/Martin Construction on December 15, 1980, Warranty Deed.
9) Harvey/Martin Construction to Willard H. Copper on February 1, 1985, Quit Claim Deed.
10) Willard H. Copper Family Trust to Temple Israel Foundation on October 15, 1992, Warranty Deed12.

        Whether Mr. Levin held title as a surviving member of the congregation or through some other devise is unclear and apparently the issue was resolved by Mrs. Malin's legal action.  In any event, Steve Malin converted the Temple into a single family residence beginning in 193713.  Mr. Malin's daughter, May, recalls that her father built two or three rooms in the rear of the Temple for the family to live in while the front was used for the repair of automobile radiators.  This use was superseded during the Second World War when the front was converted to living space for boarders from the greatly expanded operations at the local mines14.  After acquiring the building in 1955, the Episcopal Church used it as a vicarage for St. George's, which faces the Temple from across 4th Street.  The Hartwigs converted it into a three unit apartment house in the 1960s.  Harvey/Martin Construction created a fourth unit during its tenure15 and the structure has retained this configuration since that time.

Temple Israel exterior, 1964Temple Israel in 1964.
Courtesy of the Western History Collection,
Denver Public Library

        Since the acquisition of the building by the Temple Israel Foundation in 1992, four grants from the Colorado State Historical Fund have been matched by private contributions.  These monies have allowed for the development of architectural and construction drawings and the reconstruction of the front facade which was accomplished during the summer of 2001.  On May 4, 2006, the building was seriously damaged by an electrical fire.  During the fall of 2006 a curatorís unit was built as an addition to the rear of the building.  The Foundation received a third grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund in February, 2007, and reconstruction of the synagogue itself began during April.  Since that time, a fourth grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund was received during October, 2007, and work on the building was completed during December, 2008.  Since then the Temple Israel has been in use as a synagogue and museum dedicated to the pioneer Jews of Leadville and the American West.  It is available for tours and special events by appointment.

Temple Israel exterior, 1995Temple Israel in 1995.
Temple Israel Foundation

Temple Israel exterior, 2001Temple Israel in 2001.
Temple Israel Foundation

        In their revived states, the Temple Israel building and the local Hebrew Cemetery have been returned to use and now stand as the final tangible remains of what was a large and active Jewish community in Leadville.

Temple Israel exterior, 2009Temple Israel in 2009.
Temple Israel Foundation

1) Leadville Daily Herald, Friday, August 8, 1884.  P. 4.
2) Quit-Claim Deed recorded in Lake County in Book 96, Page No. 171.
3) Quit-Claim Deed cited above.
4) Exploring Jewish Colorado, Phil Goodstein, University of Denver, 1992.  P. 125.
5) Robert M. Murdock was very active as a contractor in Leadville during its silver boom period.  He was responsible for the construction of the Tabor Grand Hotel (1884-5), the Breene Block [SE corner, Harrison & 4th] (1887-8), the Armory building [140 E 5th] (1888), and residences for B.F. Follett [W 8th], J.H. Stotesbury [Pine & 8th], and Theodore Schults [Pine & 7th] (1887) amongst many other projects.  History of Leadville and Lake County, Colorado, Don L. Griswold and Jean Harvey Griswold, Colorado Historical Society in cooperation with the University Press of Colorado, 1996. Pgs. 1369, 1371, 1897, 1912, 1916.
6) George Edward King was Leadville's leading commercial architect between 1878 and 1886.  In addition to the Temple Israel building, he was responsible for the following structures: the Tabor Grand Hotel; the Delaware Hotel; the 9th Street School; the Central School; the U.S. Post Office; the Lake County Court House; the Clipper Building (Silver Dollar Saloon); and his own home at 212 West 9th Street.  King's portfolio also included "Old Main" at Colorado State University, the Arnett-Fullen house in Boulder, and in Mexico: the Casino Club in Juarez; the Opera House in Zacatas; and the Opera House in Mexico City.  The above information furnished by William R. Hinken, 212 West 9th Street, Leadville, July 2, 1995.
7) Leadville Daily Herald, Friday, August 8, 1884.  P. 4.
8) Leadville Daily Herald, Saturday, September 20, 1884.  P. 4.
9) Exploring Jewish Colorado, Phil Goodstein, University of Denver, 1992.  P. 123.
10) Exploring Jewish Colorado, Phil Goodstein, University of Denver, 1992.  P. 125.
11) The Centennial History of the Jews of Colorado 1859-1959, Allen duPont Breck, The Hirschfeld Press, 1960.  P. 133.
12) Lake County Office of the Clerk and Recorder, Leadville.
13) Joseph Jakopic, 429 Elm Street, Leadville, laborer for Steve J. Malin, interviewed June 6, 1994.
14) May Malin Crippen, Canon City, daughter of Steve J. Malin, interviewed by telephone, June 8, 1994.
15) Robert Gilgulin, 601 Harrison Avenue, Leadville, general partner for Harvey/Martin Construction, interviewed May 12, 1994