Former Temple Being Reborn

The former Temple Israel, Tulsa’s first synagogue, is poised to experience a phoenix-like rebirth after being heavily damaged by fire in January.
Tentative plans are in place for the historic building, 1306 S. Cheyenne Ave., to become an office space, housing local nonprofit Land Legacy and other conservation and sustainability based NPOs.
Land Legacy Executive Director Robert Gregory said his organization, the mission of which is to improve quality of life through the creation of urban parks and trails, farm and ranch preservation and water quality protection, approached Stephens with the idea.
“I drive by the building every day on my way home from work, and I have always been interested in it,” he said.
Gregory said Stephens bought the building around the same time Land Legacy realized it would have to move offices in the near future.
“I e-mailed Kevin and asked him if maybe he felt like partnering on this, and he jumped right in,” he said.
Stephens, who had previously considered making the space a community arts center, had broad-reaching goals from the outset.
“When I bought the synagogue and the properties around it, I felt like it should turn into something for everyone,” he said.
And thus was born Stephens’ and Gregory’s shared vision: a place that would serve as office space for numerous nonprofits focused around sustainability and a place where the community can come to be educated in sustainability.
“Right now, if land owners wants to start an organic farm, there are a hundred different places they have to go for help with different things,” Gregory said. “We are hoping to solve that problem with this project. This will be a one-stop shop for land owners interested in sustainable practices.”
If a building’s form should follow its function, Stephens and Chris Lilly, architect at designing firm Kinslow Keith and Todd, have certainly succeeded. The restored landmark will be a reflection of the sustainable design espoused by its inhabitants, from top to bottom.
“We want to be an example of sustainability while preserving the building’s character,” Stephens said. “We want to build the dome the same dimensions as the old one, but incorporate light collection.”
Stephens said the structure’s roof will be covered in solar panels and planted with greenery. On the ground level, the building will be surrounded by permeable paving, ground and rainwater reclamation tanks, native-planted landscaping and even an organic garden.
The Tulsa landmark’s rebirth, however, will not be without its labor pains.
The fire raged through the building last winter left it without supporting structure, leaving the street in front of it closed to traffic and the building’s brick walls standing on their own. Stephens said in order to preserve the building’s original exterior, a new steel frame will have to be built from the inside.
In addition, the building is in its second round of hazardous materials study — the first was completed just before the fire — of which any negative outcome could result in enormous cost increases.
Still, Stephens is determined.
“The building is very historically significant to Tulsa,” he said. “I think it is important to preserve the spirit of what it was.” ?

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