Historic Restoration of a Sanctuary: Congregation Beth Ahabah
Everyone knew it was a big job.
Congregation Beth Ahabah’s mural was given in 1913 by the Ladies’ Auxiliary and is the focal point of the synagogue’s formal sanctuary. Spanning 30 feet end to end and reaching a height of 50 feet at its apex, the proscenium arch had cracked plaster, and faded and dirty paint. It needed repairs and repainting – a full restoration. In eight weeks’ time.
Larry Salzman, the congregation’s immediate past president of the board of managers and head of the architectural committee, which oversaw the restoration, says three firms were interviewed for the project, two of which came from other states. The third was H.J. Holtz & Son.
“There are only a handful of companies who want to do and who can do this type of work,” Salzman says. “A member of the committee suggested we talk to Rick [Holtz]. He said he could do the job, he could do it in the time frame we had, and he had the crew with the skill set we needed.
“He assured me it would be good and on time,” Salzman adds. “It came out good – and on time.”
The restoration was undertaken in the summer, when the congregation worships in a smaller sanctuary elsewhere in the building. All work had to be completed by late August, to accommodate the main sanctuary’s busy school-year schedule, which includes school sessions, bar and bat mitzvahs, and weddings and funerals, in addition to regular worship services.
On July 1, the Holtz team erected a scaffolding system – which Salzman describes as “massive” – to reach the arch, then made stencils of the pattern. Brandon Taylor, of Taylor & Son LLC, who often works with H.J Holtz & Son on historic restoration projects, repaired the many plaster cracks that had developed over the years. Using the stencils made at the start, Holtz craftspeople repainted over the new plaster and refreshed original parts of the mural that had remained through the plaster repair.
The work was meticulous. The detail in the design necessitated the use of very small brushes – think the size usually found in an elementary student’s art kit – to ensure crisp edges and give life and movement to the leaf fronds and scroll designs throughout the artwork.
With the oldest and largest synagogue in Richmond, Congregation Beth Ahabah’s membership is committed to the care of its facilities, for spiritual, historical, and practical reasons alike. Salzman says repair and restoration of the mural was a goal that became possible after a longtime member family donated funds specifically for that purpose.
“This is a special, awe-inspiring building,” he says. “Many people just like to come in here and sit. This is truly a special place.”
As arch restoration was underway, H.J. Holtz & Son was also hired to repaint the Goldburg Auditorium, on the basement level – “It was way out of date,” Salzman says – and paint the synagogue’s foyer and another hallway.
Salzman says the professional attitude and quality workmanship that H.J. Holtz & Son brought to each project is appreciated.
“They did a really good job, at a competitive price, on time, and completed additional work at a fair price and also on time,” Salzman says. “We now have a relationship with a local company with a skill set we need. We would not hesitate to use [Holtz & Son] again.”