Last week, the Boston City Council unanimously approved the recommendation by Boston’s Community Preservation Committee and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to fund a grant for the Vilna Shul for $500,000.
This prestigious grant will help to defray costs associated with universal accessibility and HVAC upgrades in the historic landmark building and is made possible by the inaugural Spring Pilot program from funds raised through the city’s new Community Preservation Act.
This round of 35 grants from the Community Preservation Committee’s funding recommendation totals just over $8 million and funds ready-to-go affordable housing, historic preservation, and parks and open space projects. The pilot has two goals: to show Boston residents the difference Community Preservation funds can make in neighborhoods, and to help test application materials and the review process before a larger round of funding in fall 2018.
“The Community Preservation Act is a new tool that will help take our work on affordable housing, historic preservation and open space to the next level,” Walsh said. “I am proud to recommend these important projects for funding approval, which represent a wide range of needs, and will build strong neighborhoods throughout our city.”
The $500,000 award to the Vilna is the largest of the spring pilot-program grant amounts and comes on the heels of a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund, which was awarded last month.
City Councilor Josh Zakim noted, “The restoration of the Vilna is important to the history of Boston and the history of immigration to Boston. It tells a story through its walls, artifacts, and location. We are lucky to have such an important building still standing, and I commend the mayor and my fellow Councilors on recognizing the important nature of this project to the fabric of Boston.”
The Vilna Shul was abandoned and structurally condemned in the mid 1980s, only to be rescued in 1995. Built in 1919, it is the last of over 50 immigration-era synagogue buildings in the city of Boston and offers a distinctive lens on Boston’s immigrant history.
Additionally, it is the only Jewish institution in the United States with three layers of unique folk art murals painted on top of one another. Barry Shrage, President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, remarked, “This [The Vilna Shul] is the most important preservation project of our time. If we don’t do it, we’ll lose it.”
Phase I renovation plans will begin this fall and focus on universal accessibility for the building. This phase is expected to be completed by summer, 2019. With the grant from the Cultural Preservation Fund, the Vilna has raised $3.54 million of the $4 million needed to start renovations. Phase II of the restoration project will focus on the conservation and restoration of the unique murals on the walls and ceiling of the second-floor sanctuary space. With the renovation, the Vilna will able to offer an expanded array of community activities for all ages, throughout the city, and beyond.
“This is an important example of today’s philanthropists and funders, along with local and state government, investing in the future of the city by lovingly preserving, restoring, conserving, and modernizing the past,” said Barnet Kessel, executive director of the Vilna Shul.