Many who pass the modernist synagogue at the SE corner of Summit and Hamline might assume that it is the only building the congregation has used. But Mount Zion Temple has deep roots in the city.
Mount Zion Temple, the oldest Jewish congregation in the city, was established by eight Germans Jewish families in 1856, two years before Minnesota became a state. First founded as the Mount Zion Hebrew Association, the families arrived as part of an early wave of Jewish immigrants. As with many others in St. Paul, the congregation initially held services in congregants’ homes or rented quarters; the Mount Zion members met in a building on Robert Street. Over the years as membership continued to increase they built a total of four buildings to house the congregation.
Their first building, completed in 1871, was a simple Gothic-style frame structure in downtown St. Paul. In 1881 the next, much larger new structure, at 10th and Minnesota (no longer standing) exhibited many of the Moorish-style elements that were then popular at the time.
As the need for more space became evident, another building (their third, now demolished) was completed in 1904 at the corner of Holly and Avon, designed by prominent architect Clarence Johnston in the Beaux Arts style with a tiled dome and two large columns with ionic capitals flanking the doorway at the top of a flight of stairs.
The last and current building was designed in 1953 by the internationally prominent architect Erich Mendelsohn. Located on Summit Avenue at Hamline Avenue it is an outstanding example of modern architecture, one of the few on that historic residential boulevard.
By 1878 the congregation had officially joined the Reform Judaism movement and today remains a Reform synagogue. Members of Mount Zion Temple have from the beginning been socially active in the city. The women in particular founded a number of organizations that assisted new Jewish immigrants as they arrived. Two of these, still active today, include Neighborhood House, founded in 1897, and the United Jewish Charities, now known as the Jewish Family Service.