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  • Writer's picturedanaevankaplan

Repairing the Temple after the Christmas Day 2012 Tornado

There was a tornado that hit Mobile on Christmas Day 2012, which caused a great deal of damage throughout the city. A very large house to the west of the Temple was completely destroyed. We were more fortunate that, although we sustained damage, our building withstood the storm. Harvey G., a Temple member and architect, volunteered to supervise reconstruction efforts, working with Richard F. (president) and Lowell F. (chairman of the building committee for the chapel), as well as Jerry S. and Howard S., who played tremendous roles in the reconstruction.

The biggest repair expense after the tornado was the Temple roof. We thought the tornado lifted up the roof when the winds came over the Temple. After checking the roof and seeing the extent of the damage, we decided to replace the entire roof of the building. We used tectum panels, which are made from shredded and compressed wood fiber. This was our biggest expense.

Other damage included a big window in the social hall that was blown out when winds came through the building. Although only one window was destroyed, in order to make them them match, we had to replace all three windows. We also had some doors to replace inside the Temple that were blown off hinges and five or six windows in the religious school wing were damaged. Those windows also had to be matched as well as brought up to the city’s building code for hurricanes. (The original windows were from the 1950s.) One-eighth-inch insulated impact glass was installed. Fortunately the stained glass windows in the sanctuary and chapel were not damaged. We had to contact the original company from St. Louis, Frei, who installed the windows and have them come to Mobile to inspect the windows and ensure they were not damaged. The company said the stained glass windows were fine and had received no damage or movement during the storm. That was big relief.

Carpet inside the Temple was damaged, so it had to be replaced. It was decided that hardwood flooring would replace the carpet. Harvey wanted to make sure repair materials were compatible with the existing design of the Temple. Harvey often asked himself, “What would Cooper do?” referencing Cooper van Antwerp, who was the original architect of the building. Van Antwerp also worked on many significant buildings in Mobile, including several churches and the van Antwerp building downtown.

Around 2004, the congregation decided a chapel was needed to provide a smaller space for services. The Ben May Foundation made a major donation to help build the chapel that now bears his name. The chapel was built where a courtyard, open area, and the rabbi’s old office were previously located. Harvey tried to be sympathetic to Cooper’s original design idea. He wanted the design to appear seamless so that no one could tell the chapel was a new addition. Harvey and others originally wanted to build the chapel as a standalone structure in front of the Temple, but it was voted down because many members wanted to keep the front courtyard as an open space.

Although the chapel is new, the ark is not. Harvey G. thinks the ark came from the previous temple building on Government Street and sought to use the ark as a symbol of continuity with the Temple’s past. The previous temple building was sold to a car dealer several decades ago who kept the building for a few years before tearing it down. A Hardee’s now sits on the site. Today, an historical plaque is located in front of the restaurant commemorating the old temple building.

For the existing building, we have the description written by Nick Holmes, a local architect with historical knowledge of many significant religious buildings in Mobile. A convention of preservationists visited the Temple in late July 2016 inquiring about the Temple as a structure in need of preservation.

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