... as told by the 'clerk of the works'
I interviewed Dorothy Travis in October 2009 about her part in the rebuilding of Temple Beth Shalom (universally called TBS) over the last several years, and culminating in the public celebration and re-dedication on October 4, 2009.
(To see an article in the November issue of the Melrose Mirror click here.)
Dorothy, of course, was one of many members of TBS who contributed an immense amount of personal time, funds, and effort to the rebuilding. The conversation recorded here is a view "through her eyes" of her experiences.
The TBS website at http://www.tbsma.org has information and many pictures of the temple during construction, a few of which I have used with permission in this article.
Dorothy Travis arrived from Chicago in the mid 1980's with her husband Evans. She had converted to Judaism there after a number of years of thoughtful consideration of her own future with Evans. Temple Beth Shalom (TBS) at that time had around 40 families and a part-time rabbi serving the congregation.
What had started as a social community in homes in Melrose became, after World War II, the Jewish Community Center. They purchased the present building, known as Oak Manor, a well-known community center which hosted dances, weddings, and many other functions. Members volunteered their time, effort and money to make it into a temple.
It was clear that they needed a school. Children were being sent to school at temples in the surrounding towns. Dorothy became part of a newly formed school committee, knowing that this would be a stretch for the temple, but worth it to draw others into the congregation. The school eventually grew to a point where rooms were crowded and eventually double-booked throughout the day. In 1998 a second floor was added on the annex for more classrooms.
The TBS community was thriving, but the building was anything but. Dorothy's husband Evans was chairman of the building committee. He answered calls to deal with endless problems -- skunks in the basement, raccoons in the roof, sewage, no heat, the water heater failed. Continual band aids were not dealing with the problems. So a Long Range Planning Committee was formed. Funds were not immediately forthcoming.
The women of the temple most hated the kitchen. It was an unpleasant place to work, tilted floor, cabinets too high to reach. The Kitchen Planning Committee was formed, and over many years was able to collect donations. Attempts at adding a handicap-accessible ramp were stymied by the impossible architecture at the time. Plans to move to another building were even explored. They explored combining with other temples. But the overwhelming opinion was that they loved the location of the building, they loved being in the center of Melrose, part of "home for the holidays" celebrations, jazz concerts, and the warm and cozy feeling of the Temple community. They felt that a small building was the way to go, even with inadequate parking. In short, Dorothy commented, "They just felt at home here."
In the meantime Evans was frequently called on to fix problems, for example replacing light bulbs on a 20 foot ladder. Dorothy had been a member for "a long time". She had been a treasurer, helped with the school, been on the social committee. The building had become a priority, or it would collapse. Members of the Kitchen Committee pointed out that the kitchen (the worst place) was attached to the bimah, and the bimah was part of the sanctuary. The whole thing had to be fixed as a whole. So in 2003 architectural plans were drawn up by Chip Sloan for consideration by the members.
Dorothy was plunged into all aspects of the project. She participated in the fund raising, the design, the construction committee, the financing. She knew the old members and the new members. She could speak with authority and not be taken lightly. Eventually everyone was on board.
"I love construction", said Dorothy. She loved working with the sub-contractors. The temple board placed her on the board with official title of Owners Rep, with signature power for all change orders, and legal authority to interact with contractor and architect. She was "Clerk of the Works" on the job.
Dorothy and the eight members of the Construction Committee began the all-out push to rebuild the temple. The site manager, Mike Niland, was the representative from the general contractor, New England Design Associates. He was there every day, and was "wonderful". Dorothy said that during this period she herself was on site almost every day.
The construction committee. 1st row Nancy Kukura, Dorothy Travis, Ken Diesenhof;
2nd row Evans Travis, Ed Fellenbaum, Ed Hertz, Karl Geller, Rich Lerman
There were so many people that contributed to the success of the project. The community and neighbors were wonderful and helpful. Fund raising was well underway before the project started, before the economy crashed. A substantial percentage of the funding was banked, and they were able to get financing and obtain a contractor before financing stopped.
Framing the hall and the windows
The first big hit was the asbestos abatement required for this old structure. Initially it was estimated at a a few thousand dollars, but ultimately cost $40,000! Storage of materials turned out to be a real problem, since there was no extra land around the temple. Fortunately the site manager brilliantly created spaces. The dumpster was squeezed in. The neighbors were most gracious throughout the project. Cochrane House, bordering behind the temple, allowed access through their fence.
Utilities were a challenge. National Grid had to be worked with not only on the jobsite, but also on nine surrounding telephone poles that had to be changed in order to get three-phase service. Fortunately member Ed Fellenbaum had contacts in National Grid and was able to help completion of a job that threatened to be incomplete even by today! Gas was also a challenge.
The building was originally painted pink and blue. People still remember the colors -- they were married here at Oak Manor. We found old signs pointing to the men's room in the basement. There were signs of an old fire in the roof structure that we wouldn't have known about. There were tilting walls and rotted timbers, skeletons of dead cats.
Then there were the questions of variances. The back of the temple was on the lot line. According to code, the back wall had to be fire-rated (i.e. three hours to burn through). Windows were not allowed! A variance was granted, after trips to Boston, for putting in windows. The walls were made double thickness and stuccoed to make it fire rated. After all, Cochrane House, the closest building, was hundreds of yards away and unlikely to build near the temple.
A handicap accessible ramp was successfully added. The question of an elevator, normally required when a second floor is present, was waived since only students would be using it and handicapped students would be accomodated with classes on the first floor. These and other variances took about six months to get decisions in Boston.
So by October the rebuilding was complete, and the re-dedication ceremony was conducted. TBS continues as an active temple for Jewish families in Melrose and surrounding communities, Stoneham, Wakefield, Andover, Saugus, Malden, and Medford.
The finished hall.
Dorothy has raised three children, all B'nai Mitzvah here. She expressed on a personal note that the congregation is like family to her. There are only about 80 families in attendance, and they retain a strong connection to the Melrose community. They speak of TBS as "the little temple that could"!
On my own personal note, Dorothy and I have shared a number of years together, first with the Melrose Symphony Orchestra where she played violin, then more recently with the Polymnia Choral Society where for a number of years she has been an outstanding accompanist for the choir. Dorothy is well-known locally for her productions of musicals with Theater II of Melrose, Stoneham Theater, as well as her teaching activities.
December 4, 2009