How a community grew off Atlantic Avenue

The JCC building is a prime example of the brutalist architecture style. Photo by Spenser Hasak

When you read the words “historic building” and “Marblehead,” you likely think of the quaint, often colorful colonial-era homes that are scattered about town. You may think of the homes that were built on land that, at the time of construction, was not yet called the United States of America. But buildings do not have to be centuries old to be historic. 

The Temple Sinai and Jewish Community Center of the North Shore (JCCNS) are unlike most of the buildings I talk about. First off, the building is not, well, a building. It is, rather, a campus. Over 12 acres of land are three buildings and an outdoors recreation center. Secondly, these buildings were built in times that feel less like history and more like “just some years ago.”

Before the JCCNS existed, there was the Jewish Community Center of Greater Lynn, which was founded in 1911.

In 1958, it was this organization that purchased the land on which the Temple Sinai and JCCNS now stand. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s inventory of the property, even before the facilities were built, in 1960 there was an in-ground swimming pool for Camp Simchah.

In 1962, the first building was constructed: Temple Sinai. The building is somewhere between the shape of a T and a J, and has a low-pitched gable roof. Next was the JCCNS across the street, which was constructed from 1969 to 1972. 

The JCCNS is perhaps the most architecturally interesting building on the campus, as it is an example of Brutalism. Another example of Brutalism is, notoriously, Boston City Hall. The inventory of the JCCNS describes this building’s expression of Brutalist style as, “combin[ing] heavy masonry framing continuous window walls, massing that expands toward the top in a gravity-and-logic-defying grammar, and rough, textured surfaces created by hand-hammered concrete ribbing and cinderblock [sic].” 

In 1985, the Arthur L. Epstein Hillel School was built. Originally, the Epstein Hillel School was Lynn Hebrew Day School, founded in 1955 by Eli Cohen, Philip D. Epstein and Albert Cushing. Now, at home in Marblehead, the school sits near the west corner of the property.

According to the inventory, between 1978 and 1993, the in-ground pool was rebuilt and the Pavillion was constructed. The Pavilion, an H-shaped building with a steep gable roof, is detailed with common bond brick posts and window walls.

The Temple Sinai and JCCNS may not be as old as some of the buildings in Marblehead. But in the over six decades of its existence in different shapes and sizes, they have established themselves within the community and thus have established themselves in the history of the town.