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Temple scaffolding only the start

Photograph of Temple Sherith Israel by Dickie Spritzer

The unsightly scaffolding that surrounds Temple Sherith Israel at the corner of Webster and California streets is as repugnant to the synagogue’s leadership as it is to neighbors and passersby, they say, but it is not going away anytime soon.

The scaffolding was erected to protect pedestrians from shards of sandstone falling from the facade. David Newman, president of the congregation, said it is the nature of sandstone to flake over time as water gets into it. The building’s major problem, however, is not with the sandstone facade but with the unreinforced masonry it covers. The building dates from 1904 and survived the 1906 earthquake, but the city deems it insufficiently reinforced.

Newman said the working drawings necessary to apply for a building permit are being prepared and will probably be ready midyear. The congregation is in the early phases of a major capital campaign to pay for the work. The main project will consist of drilling vertical holes in the walls and filling them with steel and concrete, then tying them across the top. The repairs to the exterior sandstone walls will be carried out as part of the reinforcement project.

Temple Sherith Israel served as San Francisco Superior Court for a time after the 1906 earthquake. It was there that political boss Abe Ruef was tried and convicted of corruption and sentenced to San Quentin.

“It’s a special building,” Newman said. “It’s more than our home. It’s an architectural treasure.”