Preserving Montana's Catholic Heritage : Helena Diocesan Structures and Historic Preservation
Object ID:
Chancery of the Diocese of Helena [Temple Emanu—El, Helena, Montana]
The Temple Emanu—El standing in a prominent location on north Ewing Street, symbolizes the vibrancy of the Jewish community which contributed to the gold camp at Last Chance Gulch. It was the first Jewish synagogue built between St. Paul and Portland and the first Jewish temple in Montana. Jewish pioneers came west with the gold rush, establishing the first businesses in Bannack, Alder Gulch; Granite, Silver City, Blackfoot City and Garnet.

Designed by Heinlein and Mathias, the Byzantine or Moorish style building rose as a temple of porphyry, sandstone and granite with symbolic keyhole windows and twin towers (originally) crowned with exotic black star—spangled onion domes. It was dedicated in 1891, but by 1892 Rabbi Schulmann accepted a job in Kansas City and the congregation was without a spiritual leader. Economic difficulties and lack of jobs diminished the congregation. By the 1930s it could no longer maintain the magnificent synagogue. The earthquakes hit in October 1935, and although the building incurred no damage, Norman Winestein, leader of the group, could not find a buyer for the building.

In 1937, the State of Montana agreed to accept the building for a token price of one dollar, in exchange for their promise to use it for a social purpose. The Department of Public Welfare divided the sanctuary into two stories and stripped the building of all religious symbolism. The domes were removed, their fate is unknown. The interior was transformed into a two—story building with a daylight basement. A vault room was installed for storage of sensitive files. The Department and its successor, SRS, continued to occupy the building until 1976.

Then it was used as off—site storage for the Montana Historical Society until 1980 when it was auctioned to the Diocese of Helena and used as its Chancery. Today, most diocesan administrative services are conducted from this building.
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Chancery -Temple Emanu-El, sketchChancery -Temple Emanu-El, sketch
Chancery of Diocese of HelenaChancery of Diocese of Helena