Historical marker highlights Dallas’ Jewish past
Photos: Dallas Jewish Historical Society
DJHS volunteers and staff unveil the downtown historical marker Nov. 3, 2023. From left, Rhonda Duchin, Susan Schackman, DJHS Board President Jeanette Pincus, DJHS Executive Director Beri Kaplan Schwitzer, Jessica Adams, Melissa Prycer and Jo Reingold.

On Nov. 3, Dallas community leaders unveiled the state’s newest historical marker recognizing The Alamo Street locations of Anshe Sphard Synagogue and Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana (First Mexican Baptist Church) as a significant part of Texas history. The event was a five-year collaboration between the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, the Dallas Mexican American Historical League and the Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana (First Mexican Baptist Church).

The marker, at the Harry Hines Triangle Park, 2402 Harry Hines Blvd., was granted in 2018 but due to COVID-19 and other reasons, the installation had been delayed.

At the warm reception, hosted by Amegy Bank, Hazzan Itzhak Zhrebker sang the National Anthem and Rabbi Shira Wallach led the dedication at the official marker site. Both clergy represented Congregation Shearith Israel, the congregation that Anshe Sphard folded into. Eddie Garcia, the Post Commander of the local Jewish War Veterans Post #256, led the community in the Pledge of Allegiance and said he was overjoyed to represent both of his special communities.

The marker tells the story of Eastern European Jews from Austria and Romania, fleeing from religious persecution in Europe. They started arriving in Dallas in the late 1880s, settling in a neighborhood north of downtown that quickly became known as Little Jerusalem. In 1906, this small Jewish community founded Anshe Sphard.

In 1913, they acquired a house located at 2211 Alamo St. and converted it into a synagogue. When the epicenter of the Jewish community shifted to South Dallas and the congregation along with it, it created an opportunity for another religious group. During that same period, immigrants fleeing the turmoil and ravages of the Mexican Revolution began arriving en masse in Dallas, spurring the transition of “Little Jerusalem” to “Little Mexico.” Most of the new residents were Roman Catholic; however, some were also Protestant and evangelical churches and missions were established to serve this community. In 1919, Primera Iglesia Bautista acquired 2211 Alamo — the same building that had once been Anshe Sphard — and the congregation now had a church that featured the Star of David in its windows and a home that lasted until 1926.

The 1936 Anshe Sphard dedication at Park Row.

Nearly 100 years later, Primera Iglesia Bautista is located near Royal Lane and Midway Road in Northwest Dallas; its previous location on Walnut Hill was destroyed by the 2019 tornado. Anshe Sphard merged with Shearith Israel in 1956. While the building no longer exists, the site was located in-between what is now the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and El Fenix Restaurant. However, its history is symbolic of the early beginnings of multiculturalism in Dallas and is a tribute to those willing to respect the faiths of others.

“The Official Texas Historical Marker program helps bring attention to community treasures and the importance of their preservation,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission. “Awareness and education are among the best ways to guarantee the preservation of our state’s history. This designation is a tool that will increase public awareness of important cultural resources.”

A subject qualifies for a marker if two basic criteria are met: historical significance and age. Historical significance is established by reviewing its role and importance in local history and the age requirement depends on the topic.

“This marker represents the multicultural history significant to both Texas and Dallas. The Dallas County Historical Commission is thrilled to be a part of this unique marker that represents the merging of the history of the Mexican American, Jewish and Christian communities. Congratulations on leaving another mark on history,” said Elizabeth Gunby, chair, Dallas County Historical Commission.

There are three types of Texas Historical Markers. Subject markers are posted solely for public education awareness and awarded more frequently than the Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, which is a legal designation for historic structures and comes with a measure of protection. Unlike subject markers, the RTHL must also meet a third criterion: architectural integrity. Historic Texas Cemetery markers identify cemeteries which have obtained the HTC designation and whose histories have been researched in detail. Texas has the largest marker program in the United States with approximately 15,000 markers. Seventeen states have used the Texas program as a model; the THC reviews more than 300 marker applications each year.

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