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Vilna Shul

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1919, Max Kalman; 1996 restoration. 18 Phillips St.
  • Vilna Shul (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)

The Vilna Shul is one of Boston's oldest Jewish congregations. In 1902, as a landsmannschaft shul (Immigrants' Mutual Aid Society), it acquired the meetinghouse of the Twelfth Baptist Church at 45 Phillips Street. In 1919, immigrants from Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, began construction of a new synagogue nearby at 18 Phillips Street, its narrow brick frontage and flat cornice merging into the general fabric of Beacon Hill. Lawyer and architect Max Kalman designed numerous tenements on the North Slope of Beacon Hill and in Dorchester and Brighton. Notice the large stained-glass tondo framing a Star of David above the entrance portal, flanked by tall slender lateral windows in this two-story red brick and cast-stone facade. But the real surprise is reserved for the sanctuary, situated on the upper floor, whose luminous interior is created by natural light filtered through three generous skylights. In the Orthodox tradition, women are seated in a separate wing to the right of the altar, conforming to the odd L-shaped site. A poor congregation accounts for the limited decorative scheme of marbleized dados and trompe-l'oeil architectural details on walls and ceiling uncovered in the restoration. The synagogue ceased to be a place of worship in 1985 and now functions as the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage, serving as a vital source of information for local communities and tourists alike.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Vilna Shul", [Boston, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 116-117.

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