Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Charter Oak Cultural Center Installs Restored Stained Glass Windows To Historic Building

Charter Oak Cultural Center, housed in one of Connecticut's architectural jewels--the first synagogue built in Connecticut-- is about to take a historic step.

Charter Oak Cultural Center Installs Restored Stained Glass Windows To Historic Building

Charter Oak Cultural Center, housed in one of Connecticut's architectural jewels--the first synagogue built in Connecticut-- is about to take a historic step. For over 75 years, the grand arched windows in the sanctuary, once filled with colorful stained glass, were fitted with white-frosted glass panels, a remnant of the neglect the building experienced before it came under the control of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency in the 1970s.

That changed last week when new stained glass windows were installed completing the full set of windows that adorn the sanctuary, a restoration project that began in the early 1990s. For the first time in a long time, all the windows are stained glass. Two rosette windows on the face of the building, which had been covered by cement for at least 50 years, are once again visible. The rosettes are being dedicated to the memory of Elliot Ginsberg, beloved Hartford leader who died of ALS in 2020. "The rosettes will be illuminated at night, watching over and blessing Elliot's beloved capitol city," said Eva Jacobson, president of Charter Oak's board.

Stained Glass Resources in Hampden, MA has been supervising the painstaking restoration and installation efforts. One of the newly restored windows is a gift from Jon Newman and Ann Leventhal, and the other is a gift from the Hoffman Family of Hoffman Auto.

Rabbi Donna Berman, Executive Director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, said, "We are proud and exuberant to be able to begin to bring the sanctuary of this historic synagogue back to its original beauty. We couldn't think of a better way to start the full renovation of our beautiful home. We wanted to signal our deep and abiding respect for this historic and holy space and the sanctuary it provides for the arts."

The building that now houses Charter Oak Cultural Center was the original home of Congregation Beth Israel. They commissioned famed architect George Keller, known for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial arch in Bushnell Park, to build Connecticut's first synagogue in 1876. Once Congregation Beth Israel left the building to settle into its new (and current) home on Farmington Avenue, Calvary Baptist Church occupied the space, until the building was abandoned in the 1970s.

By the late 70s, left open and empty, the City of Hartford planned to demolish it. A small group of Jewish leaders mobilized to save this Hartford gem. The group formed the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association. They saved the building in the interest of historic preservation, but they also envisioned its use not as a house of worship, but as a neighborhood center. They wanted to reaffirm Jewish engagement in Hartford, while serving a multi-ethnic urban neighborhood that would become a cornerstone of the downtown revival. They wanted the building and the institution it would become to be a vital part of the downtown revival.

The beautiful building was carefully restored. The original stencil work, pews and fixtures remain. The founders' work paid off. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Monuments. But financial pressures on the new center were hard to overcome. By 2001, when Rabbi Donna Berman took the helm at Charter Oak Cultural Center, the organization was on the verge of closing its doors forever. Donna breathed new life into Charter Oak. Under her leadership, Charter Oak Cultural Center has become one of the area's most vibrant arts centers, the only one whose mission is explicitly to do the work of social justice through the arts. Today, Charter Oak Cultural Center is a haven for multicultural arts and the exploration of burning social issues of our day.

In 2021, Charter Oak Cultural Center announced the acquisition of 25 Charter Oak Avenue, the historic property adjacent to its existing building. In so doing, the non-profit announced that it would be expanding its campus and initiating a comprehensive upgrade to both buildings. Aside from restoration efforts, the original building at 21 Charter Oak Avenue will have its sanctuary performance space, audience seating and visual arts gallery updated and enhanced, and new HVAC systems and significant accessibility improvements. The new building at 25 Charter Oak Avenue will be transformed into classroom and meeting spaces in response to the skyrocketing demand for its Youth Arts Institute and social justice programming. Architectural and landscape designs have been developed to create a campus uniting both buildings with outdoor spaces that allow for communal gathering, gardens, public art, and performances.

Charter Oak Cultural Center, housed in the first synagogue built in Connecticut, is a non-profit, multi-cultural arts center, committed to doing the work of social justice through the arts by offering performances, concerts, exhibits, lectures and other professional arts events from which no one is turned away for lack of funds, providing 1,000 Hartford children with a free, high quality arts education and making three innovative programs that offer educational and employment opportunities, in the arts, available to members of the homeless community. For more information, visit www.charteroakcenter.org.



Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program Announces Annual Playwriting and Acting Contests Photo
The Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) is currently accepting submissions for both the 8th Annual Young Native Playwrights Contest (Deadline: March 1), and the 3rd Annual Misty Upham Award for Young Native Actors (Deadline: Feb 28th). Native artists 25 and under are eligible to submit to both awards.  

Photos: First Look At Paula Vogels INDECENT At Playhouse on Park Photo
INDECENT by Paula Vogel will run at Playhouse on Park is running now through February 26, 2023.

University Of Hartford To Offer Course With Lecture By Frank Rizzo In Conjunction With Pla Photo
Playhouse on Park will partner with the University of Hartford Presidents' College in conjunction with their current Main Stage production, INDECENT by Paula Vogel.

MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES to be Presented at Yale Repertory Theatre in March Photo
Yale Repertory Theatre will start the second half of its 2022–23 season with Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, directed by Laurie Woolery, March 10–April 1 at the University Theatre.


More Hot Stories For You


Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program Announces Annual Playwriting and Acting ContestsYale Indigenous Performing Arts Program Announces Annual Playwriting and Acting Contests
January 28, 2023

The Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) is currently accepting submissions for both the 8th Annual Young Native Playwrights Contest (Deadline: March 1), and the 3rd Annual Misty Upham Award for Young Native Actors (Deadline: Feb 28th). Native artists 25 and under are eligible to submit to both awards.  

Photos: First Look At Paula Vogel's INDECENT At Playhouse on ParkPhotos: First Look At Paula Vogel's INDECENT At Playhouse on Park
January 27, 2023

INDECENT by Paula Vogel will run at Playhouse on Park is running now through February 26, 2023.

Windham Theatre Guild Presents BLACKADEMICSWindham Theatre Guild Presents BLACKADEMICS
January 27, 2023

In celebration of Black History Month, the Windham Theatre Guild presents Blackademics by Idris Goodwin opening Friday, February 3rd at the Burton Leavitt Theatre.

University Of Hartford To Offer Course With Lecture By Frank Rizzo In Conjunction With Playhouse On Park's INDECENTUniversity Of Hartford To Offer Course With Lecture By Frank Rizzo In Conjunction With Playhouse On Park's INDECENT
January 26, 2023

Playhouse on Park will partner with the University of Hartford Presidents' College in conjunction with their current Main Stage production, INDECENT by Paula Vogel.

MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES to be Presented at Yale Repertory Theatre in MarchMOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES to be Presented at Yale Repertory Theatre in March
January 26, 2023

Yale Repertory Theatre will start the second half of its 2022–23 season with Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, directed by Laurie Woolery, March 10–April 1 at the University Theatre.