Chris Risher’s Colorful Temple

A while back, MissPreser W. White alerted me to a vintage publication called “Creative Ideas in Glass” for sale online. Published quarterly as “an architectural review” by specialty glass manufacturer American Saint Gobain, the brief, color booklet doesn’t have a publication date, but I’m estimating it around 1965. The reason W. thought I would want to buy it is that it contains a double-page spread about architect Chris Risher’s ultra-Modern Jewish temple in Meridian’s northern suburbs, Temple Beth Israel, built in 1964. Now that we’re trying to build a portfolio of Chris Risher’s work to put the Meridian Police Station in context, I thought this would be a good time to share these beautiful pictures and text with the world.

These images are rare, especially color images, because the complex–consisting of the temple, and educational building, and fellowship hall arranged in a tripartite composition–only lasted four years. According to the ISJL history of the Meridian congregation:

While Jews had long enjoyed social acceptance in Meridian and rarely faced prejudice, the turmoil of Civil Rights unleashed the anti-Semitism within some segments of the larger community.  A group of Ku Klux Klan members from Jackson, who had bombed the temple and rabbi’s house there, bombed the new education building of Meridian’s Congregation Beth Israel in 1968.  When they returned later to bomb the home of Meyer Davidson, an outspoken leader of the Jewish community, they were captured by police after a shootout.

After the bombing, the educational wing was demolished and the walkways that were glazed so subtly they appeared open, were left unglazed, so that today the complex contains a fellowship hall and temple connected by the same open walkway, but without the balance of that educational wing and its vivid blue glass. Nevertheless, enough of the design remains to amaze the visitor, and if you can arrange a visit to this landmark of Risher’s oeuvre, you should do so. While you’re at it, drop a line to the City of Meridian and to the MDAH Board of Trustees to remind them that they should consider Chris Risher’s buildings to be assets, not to be thrown away on a whim.

Risher Meridian Temple spread small


Risher Meridian Temple 1Traditionally a Jewish synagogue serves as a house for worship, study, and assembly. Temple Beth Israel in Meridian, Mississippi, separates these three functions into different buildings, but links them together by walkways to preserve unity. The three buildings–the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and elevated educational wing–are glazed with over 10,000 sq. ft of ASG’s Starlux plate glass. Most of the window wall is held in place by a unique glazing system that moves the mullions away from the glass leaving only a fine, hairline seam (see detail).

Connecting walkways, stretching 120-ft. across the front of the plan and creating a courtyard at the entrance, are walled with the same unbroken expanses of gleaming Starlux plate. The perfectly clear glass, set in low profile sash at head and base, performs two functions. It provides protection between buildings, yet opens te central sanctuary to view. At night, the sanctuary’s stained glass window, focal point of the temple, is clearly visible to the public from a considerable distance.
Risher TempleB

The sanctuary’s gable end is glazed with lights of Starlux up to 12-ft. high near its apex. The beautiful sanctuary and courtyard are vividly reflected in the walls and doors of Starlux. Exposed laminated wood beams rise from exterior concrete buttresses into the sanctuary. The roof is shingled with one-inch hand-split shakes. Natural river stones in the courtyard form a bed for the corner stone from the previous temple.

Risher Meridian Temple 7Recessed steel structurals anchor 5½-inch long steel shafts, concealed in 3/8-inch round chromed sleeves, that support the circular steel discs. From the building exterior, the discs seem to float in space. Note that only a thin seam reveals where the lights of Starlux are joined. The glass has resisted winds up to 60 miles per hour without mishap. Natural-color fishnet drapes, hung in the ceiling recess, conceal the structural system.

The lighted temple beams a glowing welcome at night. The educational wing (left), is almost completely encased by lights of Starlux in 10½ x 11-ft. openings. A modern stained glass window forms the exterior wall of the wing’s main stairwell. Walkway lights have tubular black metal shades.

You can see these images in a large format on Flickr, in the newly created Chris Risher group. If you have any photos of Chris Risher buildings, please add them to the group so we can begin gathering his portfolio together.

Can’t get enough of Chris Risher?

Categories: Architectural Research, Churches, Civil Rights, Meridian, Modernism


4 replies

  1. Glad I could help out a little. As you said, at least there are some photographs of this building, considering it existed for so little time.


  2. I’ve visited the temple, but have never been invited in past the gate. Understandably its gated off making it difficult to photograph. This is the first time ive seen the educational wing.


  3. Great find William!


  4. We just bought a home built in 1950 by the Mr Risher. It is very unique. 3429 29th Avenue in Meridian, Ms. It it almost like a modern tree house.


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