Our Building & History
In 1846 the Congregation leased a building on St. Emanuel Street in downtown Mobile, previously used as a worship site for Episcopalians, Unitarians, and Universalists. The Congregation’s first Rabbi, Mendes da Silva, was hired. A prominent Mobile businessman, Israel Jones, served as President of the Board of Trustees. As more Jewish immigrants left Europe and settled in Mobile, the Congregation grew. By 1853 a larger facility was needed to accommodate the increase in families. The Jackson Street Synagogue located downtown, between St. Michael and St. Louis Streets, was purchased.
Congregation Sha’arai Shomayim remained at the St. Emanuel Street location for fifty-four years. During that time the congregation continued to grow. A religious school was instituted, the first printed edition of the Constitution and By-laws was produced, and a new cemetery was established on what is now Owens Street. Members of the Congregation were active in Mobile’s business, political, and cultural life. In 1878 the Congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, becoming one of the earliest members of the Reform Jewish movement.
In 1907, having again outgrown their worship facility, the Congregation moved into a new building at the corner of Government and Warren Streets.. Designed by a prestigious local architect firm, Watkins, Hutchisson and Garvin, the Government Street Temple’s three-day dedication services drew visitors and Jewish leaders from throughout the Country.
The Congregation would remain at the Government Street location until 1953. As the physical building had deteriorated with age and many of the Temple’s members had moved to the city’s suburbs, the trustees decided to build a new worship facility west of downtown, on Springhill Avenue. Designed by local architect Thomas Cooper Van Antwerp, the Temple’s current location was dedicated September 2, 1955. Ten years later the Temple facilities were expanded to include a new wing consisting of three classrooms and a conference room. In 2000 the Chapel and library were added.
The Springhill Avenue Temple building style has been described as “contemporary Georgian.” The building has been featured in many historic tours throughout the years and has won several architectural awards. The Temple has survived two hurricanes and one tornado in recent years and continues to serve a growing, vibrant congregation.
Our Stained Glass Windows
The eight stained glass windows in the Temple’s sanctuary were designed by artist Emil Frei of St. Louis. The four windows on the north side of the building depict Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the windows on the south side represent the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, Succos and Chanukah, Purim and Pesach (Passover), and Shevuos (Pentecost) and the Sabbath.