Guitarist Arnold “AC” Cardon has played large and small venues from his New Mexico home to Indonesia. During an early May performance at Temple Sinai, he became a part of a venue transformation from historic Jewish temple to unique concert hall and cultural center.
Lynn Wood, who has turned a little coffee shop into an iconic St. Francisville hangout called The Birdman Coffee & Books, sees great concert hall potential on the spot where early Jewish settlers to Bayou Sara worshipped and congregated. Cardon’s concert wasn’t the first she’s promoted and plan at Temple Sinai, but it signaled a movement in the usual folk, blues genres of the area to what she termed “funky and jazzy with a little Santana thrown in.”
The Temple Sinai restoration, led by the Freyhan Foundation, is Part 1 of a three-part project to restore and utilize historic structures tied to early Jewish settlers, said Janice Wynn, foundation board member. Bringing music to the forefront will open the door for cultural and education programming.
The Temple has a long and rich history. The Jewish citizens of Bayou Sara started plans to build the temple in 1893. On July 12, 1901, the Jewish congregation formed a corporation known as Temple Sinai. The Temple was dedicated in March 1903, according to records kept by the Freyhan Foundation.
Flooding was a reoccurring problem and by 1921 most of the congregation had moved, and the temple no longer had the full services of a rabbi. The Temple was sold to local Presbyterians. The building was used as a Presbyterian church until the 1970s when it was sold to be used as government office space.
Temple Sinai was listed as one of the Top 10 Endangered Sites in 2006 and a grant for the restoration was secured from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. The grant agreement began in December 2009 and ended in December 2011. The Freyhan Foundation completed the restoration in 2012 and started work to use the Temple as space for weddings, lectures and cultural activities.
The Temple is a natural for the music scene and both Wood and Wynn explain that it has been an immediate hit with performers and concertgoers. “The first show we had in here was a Guy Clark tribute show and we sold out and people loved it so much that many wanted to do a show in here,” Wood said. “The artists enjoy it so much.”
“It's so up-close,” Wynn added. “It's very personal.”
Wood’s second Temple Sinai concert featured local favorites Clay Parker and Jody James, who were in the first audience. “It's been pretty much folk Americana kind of music,” she explained.
Wood paired Cardon with an opening act featuring area mainstays Nancy and Joe Roppolo, guitarist Billy Calloway and Susan Aysen on the clarinet.
Cardon’s set was combined an acoustical style with diverse musical offerings that sampled blues, rock, jazz and Latin stylings. Cardon said the venue’s construction provides unique acoustics and warm, natural sounds.
The Freyhan Foundation restoration didn’t create the building’s acoustical strength; it freed it from years of neglect and excavated it from layers of change. “You have to picture this, when you came in here before, a lot of the windows were missing and you had boards in the windows,” Wynn said. “They had chartreuse carpet on the floor and a dropped acoustical ceiling. When we took that acoustical ceiling off, we found all this beam board under there — treasure. And when we pulled up the carpet, we found the beautiful hardwood floors.”
The restorers then went on a mission to find the temple benches that were being used in other places and, eventually, were able to get all the original benches back.
Wood’s next promoted concert at Temple Sinai will be Sept. 1 and feature Cajun/folk singer Yvette Landry, of Breaux Bridge.