Funerals/Minyanim

Congregation Beth Israel Restores Historic Chandelier and is Awarded “Good Brick Award”

            The Temple of Rest Mausoleum of the Congregation Beth Israel Cemetery is an iconic Art Deco structure designed by architect Joseph Finger. The hallmarks of this building are the exquisite stained glass windows, the bronze iron work, and the beautiful chandelier.

Over the years, the chandelier’s bulb covers had broken off, and the bulbs removed. The project goal was to find identical bulb cover replacements, and install them with new bulbs to preserve the original Art Deco design.

Kathy Parven, Cemetery Director, embarked on this project in April 2016, not knowing she had begun an eighteen-month journey. The search began in Houston for a glass blower that could replicate the bulb cover. Due to the intricate design and finish, no local glass blowers in the Houston area could make matching bulb covers. They told her it would be impossible for anyone to replicate them. Several suggested ideas for new and different designs; however Parven knew that replacing them with something new was not an option without exhausting every possible resource. Parven extensively searched on line, visited glass blowers across the Texas Hill Country, networked with glass blower associations and more, but it was to no avail.

By some chance, Parven happened to be watching an episode of Billion Dollar Buyer that included a story about an Austin-area glass blower that created beautiful, custom items. Excited, Parven found the glass blower – Leigh Taylor Wyatt. Wyatt offered to look at the bulb cover to determine if she could help create replacements. Parven carefully packed and shipped the bulb cover to Wyatt. Wyatt determined she could, in fact, make the bulb covers, after coordinating with another individual to first fabricate the mold.

Wyatt reached out to artist Greg Allen of Blockhead Tools in Seattle. After receiving the carefully packed bulb cover, Allen verified he was able to fabricate a matching mold.  In November 2016 Allen began work on the mold. He provided a digitized drawing for Parven to approve, and she was stunned at how perfect the digitized drawing looked, and gave approval for the mold to be made. In January 2017, the completed mold was shipped to Wyatt, who had since re-located to Colorado. At last, the new bulb covers (seven in total) were completed and shipped to Parven in July 2017. The impossible had become possible!

Thinking that the last step was to hire an electrician to conduct the installation, Parven engaged J.L. Wood Electric. There was just one problem – some of the new covers slipped through the chandelier’s brass holders, indicating the new bulb covers were a bit too slim at the attachment point. Parven identified a local vendor that could craft the new brass rings to match those already in place. With the new brass rings, it was time to attempt installation once again. Alas, the 1932 wiring and filaments needed to be replaced, so the electrician carefully hand-made the necessary wiring and finally, eighteen months after this journey began, the installation was completed in October 2017.

After being told ‘it couldn’t be done”, or to just purchase ordinary stock bulb covers on the internet, and due to Parven’s determination, perseverance, and unwillingness to “give up”,  the beautiful, classic 1934 chandelier was fully lit once again, with all parts perfectly matching the original. Now this historic chandelier can be appreciated by all visitors in its authenticity today.

            For this special project, Congregation Beth Israel was awarded a Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston at its annual Cornerstone dinner. The winners were unveiled in the Houston Chronicle, and Carol Desenberg and Michael Farnell represented the synagogue at the event to accept the award. Preservation Houston has presented the Good Brick Awards since 1979 to recognize outstanding contributions to the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of Houston’s architectural and cultural heritage. Nomination categories include the renovation, restoration, or adaptive reuse of a building; new buildings or sympathetic additions that enhance the existing historic fabric of Houston; recognition for the craftspeople who continually maintain, build, and restore our important buildings and cultural fabric; preservation-related programs or activities; project planning; publications; and outstanding service or leadership in preservation.

 

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