Benjamin Brown (ca. 1888-1974) was the first practicing Jewish architect in Toronto. Born in what is now Lithuania, he arrived in Toronto at an early age and soon after, quit school to take a job in a garment manufacturing factory to help out his impoverished family. Not finding this career to his liking, Brown enrolled in the Ontario School of Art and Design with the intention of becoming an artist. When this profession proved financially unfeasible, Brown decided to pursue a career in architecture. After completing his high school equivalency, he enrolled in the University of Toronto architectural program, graduating in 1913. Soon after, Brown opened up a practice with fellow architect Robert McConnell, which lasted until the early 1920s. After the partnership ended, Brown set up an independent practice, which he maintained until his retirement in 1955.
Scope and Content
The fonds documents Brown’s design work and renovations of existing buildings through his original drawings, renderings, and building blueprints. The fonds consists of approximately 1500 drawings that are organized into about 150 projects. These projects include single-family residences, apartment buildings, commercial and industrial buildings, as well as synagogue and other community buildings. Many of Brown's buildings were designed in the Art Deco style, with some containing Georgian, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Tudor and Romanesque elements.
Brown's most important commissions include the Beth Jacob Synagogue located on Henry Street, which was one the largest synagogues in Toronto, and the Balfour Building, an office tower built in the Art Deco style. The designs of Mendel Granatstein’s mansion, which contained a retractable roof for Sukkoth, and a colour sketch of the Primrose Club, which is currently the University of Toronto Faculty Club, may also be of interest to researchers. The fonds also includes some of Brown's files containing articles and illustrations from architecture and design journals of the early twentieth century, which he used as a resource to assist him with his work.
Fonds includes six photographs, one of the Balfour Building, one of Cumberland Hall, and four of Brown as a young man.
Architectural plans of a lead mine in Burnt River Ontario have been sent to the Kawartha Lakes Archives.
136 architectural drawings : pencil, some hand col., watercolour, on linen weave and tracing paper ; 100 x 90 cm or smaller
The Henry Street Beth Jacob Synagogue was founded by Toronto’s Polish-Jewish Community, as the successor of an older, smaller synagogue on Elm Street. It was the first synagogue in Toronto that was designed by a Jewish architect, Benjamin Brown. Located at 23 and 23 ½ Henry Street, the synagogue was dedicated in 1922, at a cost of $156,000, and could accommodate up to eight hundred worshippers. It was built in Romanesque style and was notable for its stained glass windows and retractable roof that was used on Sukkoth. It also contained a vaulted ceiling capped by a large dome and four smaller ones. The building was eventually sold and converted into a church. It is the current site of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church.
Scope and Content
File consists of architectural drawings of Beth Jacob Synagogue. Contained within are basement, floor, stairwell and roof plans, load plans, sections, and elevation drawings. Also included are detailing of windows, the Ark, entrances and other structures and objects.
Most of the drawings are stored in four rolls, the remainder are encased in five sheets of Melinex. Due to the fragility of these drawings, the medium, extent and sizes of them are based on the descriptions compiled by Steve Speisman. It is recommended that a conservator examine these drawings.
Beth Jacob Synagogue (Toronto, Ont.)
Copyright is held by the Ontario Jewish Archives. Please contact the Archives to obtain permission prior to use.