Introduction

The story of Sixth & I

Over the last century, the building on the corner of 6th and I Streets has undergone numerous incarnations that parallel the history and evolution of the nation’s capital. In this timeline, uncover the unexpected story of renewal, revitalization, and reinvention that has led to what Sixth & I is today.

1852

A Jewish community grows in the nation’s capital.

The German-Jewish community settles along Seventh Street in downtown Washington, DC as early as the 1850s. Twenty-one Jews of German descent form the Washington Hebrew Congregation in 1852, making it the first Jewish congregation in the District of Columbia. By the turn of the last century, the historic Seventh Street neighborhood houses a vibrant Jewish community comprised of a mixture of first- and second-generation immigrants from Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe.

1869-1899

Adas Israel Congregation established.

When the Washington Hebrew Congregation begins to align itself with the more liberal Reform movement, 38 members resign from the congregation to practice a more traditional form of Jewish worship. In 1869, Adas Israel Congregation is established, first as an Orthodox congregation, and later became affiliated with the Conservative movement in 1928.

In 1876, Adas Israel dedicates its first synagogue building, with President Ulysses S. Grant in attendance, at the corner of Sixth and G Streets, NW.

Over the years, Adas Israel outgrew its home and eventually decides to build a larger synagogue in 1899.

1905-1906

Construction begins on Adas Israel’s new synagogue at the corner of Sixth and I Streets, NW.

Adas Israel finds a buyer for the synagogue property at Sixth and G Streets, NW, and purchases a new lot for $17,500 at the corner of Sixth and I Streets in 1905.

Construction begins on the new synagogue in 1906. But, before it could start, architect Louis Levi and builder Arthur Cowsill have to convince District of Columbia engineers that the foundation—which used reinforced concrete columns and concrete floors in place of customary iron columns and wood floor beams—could hold the weight of the building committee, the engineers, and seventy two courses of heavy brick. Once the concrete foundation, which was a new technology at the time, proved sound, construction begins in full swing. The total cost of the edifice is $90,000.

1906

Cornerstone for the future synagogue is laid.

The congregation holds a cornerstone laying ceremony on November 22, 1906, in the presence of government officials, Christian clergy from nearby churches, Adas Israel officials and members of its building committee. They place a time capsule inside of the cornerstone, containing copies of Jewish newspapers, coins minted in 1906, congregation membership lists, copies of the United States and Adas Israel constitutions, a copy of the April 15, 1865 edition of the New York Herald, giving an account of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the fall of Richmond, and other articles.

1908

Adas Israel opens, ushering in a vibrant era of Jewish life in downtown Washington.

With the dedication on January 6, 1908, Adas Israel becomes the third synagogue in a thriving Jewish neighborhood, with Ohev Shalom, an Eastern European congregation established in 1906, at 5th and I Streets and Washington Hebrew Congregation on 8th Street just south of I Street.

The synagogue opens to rave reviews, including an article in The Washington Post that exclaims, “From an architectural standpoint, the new temple ranks with the best church edifices in the city.”

Jewish life occasionally supersedes secular life in the neighborhood. On the High Holidays, I Street is closed off to accommodate for the sidewalks and streets filled with people walking to and from the synagogues. One congregant, Leo Bernstein, said that “during the High Holidays all of us young people used to meet each other and walk up and down the streets between the synagogues. Maybe 500 to 1000 people would be walking the streets. It was like Broadway.”

1945-1951

Adas Israel moves to upper Northwest and Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church assumes ownership of the building.

To accommodate its growing membership, Adas Israel acquires a piece of land in 1945 at Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street for a new sanctuary—a more convenient location for many of its congregants who have moved into northwest Washington and the Maryland suburbs. As a result, Adas Israel puts the building at Sixth and I Streets up for sale in 1951 and builds a synagogue in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, where the congregation still worships today.

Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church purchases the original synagogue in 1951. The church itself had been established in 1919 and by 1946 had outgrown its own home at Fifth and P Streets, NW.

1951-1980

Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church renovates sanctuary interior.

Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church renovates the interior in accordance with African Methodist Episcopal doctrine. The aron hakodesh (Holy Ark) and bimah (altar/platform) are removed and replaced with an area for the choir and an organ. The bimah railing is removed and reinstalled closer to the ground.

While other Jewish elements are removed, the rose window—a focal point of the sanctuary that contained a Star of David—remains for 30 years. In the 1980s, Turner conducts large scale-renovations, including replacing the six-pointed chandeliers, light sconces, and the rose window. A new window depicts the symbols of the Church, including a dove, the crown and cross, a beehive, the ship of Zion, a harp, three fish, an olive branch, and lilies.

In 1979, Turner Memorial builds a four-story, multipurpose center on an adjacent property to provide additional accommodations for church and community-related services.

2002

Turner Memorial puts the building up for sale.

By 2002, most of Turner Memorial’s growing congregation had moved to Prince George’s County, Maryland. After 52 years on the corner of Sixth and I Streets, NW, Turner moved in 2003 to more spacious quarters closer to its congregants in Hyattsville, Maryland, bringing with them the following items:

One grand piano, one organ, 400 hymnals, 400 bibles, 15 ministerial robes, 10 computers, 10 desks, two candelabra, one communion table, one baptismal font, one public address system, one stereo, one drum set, two rehearsal pianos, three copying machines, 40 file cabinets, 10 microphones, 1,000 chairs, 10 coffee urns, one deep-fryer, one ice maker, one industrial-size refrigerator, one American flag, one AME flag, one spotlight, dozens of desks and banquet tables, hundreds of pieces of artwork, and the letters used for the front yard sign.

2002

Within 24 hours, the building is saved.

The realtor advertised the property as “suitable for a nightclub.” And indeed, one buyer expressed interest in turning it into just that, going so far as to negotiate for a permit with DC authorities.

Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington executive director Laura Cohen Apelbaum, whose father's bar mitzvah took place in the building, began to appeal to members of the Jewish community to save the structure.

She contacted Shelton Zuckerman, a local developer whose own family had prayed in the building. Realizing the urgency to preserve the building’s storied past, Zuckerman quickly contacted developer and philanthropist Abe Pollin z''l, who in turn called developer Douglas Jemal. Within 24 hours the three developers purchased the building.

2002-2004

Historic restorations on Sixth & I begin.

Zuckerman, Pollin z''l, and Jemal set out to restore the historic structure, embarking on a community-wide effort and enlisting the help of former congregants and their descendants.

DC architects Shalom Baranes and Associates volunteered to oversee the restoration of the building to its original state. Since 1908, the building had always been occupied; despite the constant use, the architects found that it was in remarkably good condition.

The developers decided that the sanctuary would be reconstructed to look as it did when it was used as a synagogue, but that some practical enhancements would be added to allow the structure to be used as a working sanctuary. However, a historically accurate restoration proved difficult. To the knowledge of the developers, no photos of the inside of the original sanctuary could be found. Upon hearing of the planned renovations, Stanley Warsaw z"l brought Zuckerman an album with photos from Warsaw’s wedding ceremony at Sixth & I in 1949. These photos provided the missing architectural details needed to recreate the interior of the synagogue as it had looked in the mid-1900s. The aron hakodesh (Holy Ark), the bimah (altar/platform), and the rose window are reconstructed after analyzing photos from that 1949 wedding and photographs of Adas Israel confirmation classes during the same time period.

2004

Artifacts found during restoration.

Hints of the congregants who once worshipped here were discovered throughout the reconstruction. While removing the church altar, workers found a prayer book in Hebrew and Russian and another, more modern prayer book in Hebrew with a stamp reading, “Adas Israel Sisterhood. Do not remove from pew.” Church hymnals and fans were also found.

2004

In front of distinguished guests, the building is rededicated as Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

A ceremony on April 22, 2004 marked the building's rededication as Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. The ceremony included speeches by the three founders who saved the building, Shelton Zuckerman, Abe Pollin z''l, and Douglas Jemal, as well as Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church Pastor Darryl Walker, DC Mayor Anthony Williams, DC Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Ambassador of the State of Israel Daniel Ayalon.

2005

President George W. Bush visits Sixth & I.

President George W. Bush visited Sixth & I on September 14, 2005 before delivering remarks at the National Dinner Celebrating 350 Years of Jewish Life in America.

2005

Sixth & I hosts the first of many events.

Sixth & I hosted its first event, Ask Dr. Love: A Conversation with Loveline’s Dr. Drew on September 22, 2005. The event helped to launch 6th in the City, Sixth & I’s series for young professionals.

On October 29, 2005, reggae artist Matisyahu performed to a sold-out crowd, ushering in a new era of cutting-edge live entertainment and helping to solidify Sixth & I as a premier music venue in downtown DC.

2008

Sixth & I becomes wheelchair accessible and welcomes all patrons.

In order to welcome the widest possible audience, Sixth & I underwent major renovations to make the building wheelchair accessible.

2009

Sixth & I launches Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood.

Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood (NYBS), designed to foster connections among the creative, urban, intellectual contingent of DC women in their 20s and 30s, launched in June 2009. Since then, NYBS has grown into a monthly program series that gives women access to strong female leaders, from journalists and magazine editors to prominent figures in non-profit and academic circles, as well as therapists, business owners and actresses. With events ranging from culinary to spiritual and feminist to professional, the series provides practical guidance and a framework for young professional women as they explore and establish their own careers and identities.

2011

Men’s Room debuts.

Men’s Room, a program series for men in their 20s and 30s, held its first event, The Art of Whiskey: A Tasting with Copper Fox Distillery, in December 2011.

2011

Sixth & Rye becomes DC’s first kosher food truck.

With a menu devised by Spike Mendelsohn, Sixth & Rye, DC’s first kosher food truck, brought Washingtonians the old-fashioned deli cuisine they’d been longing for. The food truck was the winning concept from the inaugural Next Great Idea for the New Year contest, in which we asked the community to submit ideas for new Sixth & I programming.

2013

The National Trust for Historic Preservation selects Sixth & I to compete as one of 25 historic sites in the DC area in its Partners in Preservation campaign.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized Sixth & I as one of 25 “Partners in Preservation” to compete with other significant historic sites in DC for major renovation funding. Taking note of the historic and cultural value of the building, as well as the vibrancy of its programs and widespread community support, the Trust awarded $75,000 to Sixth & I to repair a dozen damaged, 105-year-old stained glass windows in our sanctuary.

2014

Slingshot Guide recognizes Sixth & I as one of 17 standard bearer organizations; Not Your Bubbe's Sisterhood included in Women & Girls Supplement.

For the seventh time, Sixth & I is recognized in the eighth annual Slingshot National Guide, which recognizes the 82 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. In addition, Not Your Bubbe's Sisterhood is included for a second year in the Women and Girls supplement, which acknowledges innovative Jewish organizations with feminist initiatives. Sixth & I is also included in the first-ever DC supplement.