Ball park synagogue is historic landmark

There are more than 1,000 buildings in St. Joseph County that have made the National Register of Historic Places, but only one is located inside a baseball stadium.

Built in 1901, the Sons of Israel Synagogue was the first ever built in South Bend although it had been abandoned and vacant for about 20 years.

The building got a new lease on life when its modern day neighbor—the South Bend Silver Hawks—got a new owner.

When Chicago businessman Andrew Berlin first came to town in the fall of 2011, his sole goal was to keep the team from flying the coup known as the Cove, not saving historic buildings.

“No, it wasn’t in the original plan. We could have torn that down and built a team store in the left field corner for a fraction of the cost,” Berlin told NewsCenter 16 today.

After all, repairing the synagogue chandelier alone cost $40,000—about 40-times the average monthly salary for a Single A ballplayer.

“But again, it was so beautiful in its, you know, prime, you could see it through the dust and the rust and the patina that was on it,” said Berlin.

Berlin figured the real business of baseball is about creating memories for visitors and he figured more people might remember visiting the team store if it was in a 100-plus year old building that had just undergone $1 million in renovation work.

“Saving that building was part of building memories,” said Berlin.

Now that the synagogue has protected landmark status it is protected from demolition in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, Berlin is more confident than ever that he made the right choice.

During the renovation workers who repaired the foundation found relics that were apparently left behind by those who laid the foundation in 1901.

They found glass bottles embossed with the name “Berlin.”

“It gave all of us a few chills when we discovered it,” said Berlin. “Now not only is that my name obviously, but I am also in the bottle business. Berlin Packaging sells billions of glass and plastic bottles annually.”

It’s believed that the vintage bottles found on the synagogue site came from the Berlin Dairy which has no connection to Berlin Packaging.

“It gave us all a few chills when we discovered it, but it sits in my office today and I think it’s good karma,” said Berlin. “One could say it was meant to be, one could say it was a coincidence, we’ll never know for sure.”

A four minute documentary on the synagogue project recently won an Emmy award.

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