A Louis Kahn Synagogue? The County’s Highest Point? An 18th Century Church?



 Photo by Ronni Diamondstein

Q:I understand that in Scarsdale there is a Louis Kahn-designed synagogue. Can you tell me how it came to be that the famous architect designed in our county?
Sasha Davis, Eastchester

A: No, we can’t, because there is no Louis Kahn-designed synagogue in Scarsdale, but there is a Louis Kahn-designed synagogue in Chappaqua. Before we reveal where, some backstory—just in case you need a refresher on your mid-20th-century architectural history. Kahn, a Jewish émigré from Estonia, was a University-of-Pennsylvania-trained designer whose works include the Phillips Exeter Academy Library, the Yale Art Gallery, and (cue the Klezmer) Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester. According to the Temple’s official history, the building “was conceived as a memorial to the Eastern European Jewish past, after whose wooden synagogues it was
patterned. This spiritual home was completed and dedicated in May 1972.” A new addition to the temple, designed in the original Kahn style, is currently under construction. Oh, and “Why Westchester?” you ask. Best we can tell: because they hired him.

Q: What is the highest point in Westchester and what is the tallest-standing building in Westchester?
—John Miras, North Salem; David Palmer, Yonkers

A: Why all the questions on height? Still, which do you think is higher: the highest natural point in the county or the tallest-standing building in the county? The highest natural point in the county, according to the Westchester County DataBook, is Bailey Mountain in Mountain Lakes County Park in North Salem. The mountain is 976 feet high. This dwarfs in comparison to the highest peak in the United States, Mount McKinley in Alaska, which stands 20,320 feet. The county’s tallest building is The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton—the building next to the skyscraper housing restaurant 42 in White Plains. It stands 45 stories high or 476 feet tall. In Chicago, the Willis Tower, formerly referred to as the Sears Tower, is the tallest building in the U.S. at 1,451 feet.

Q: What and where is the oldest church in Westchester? 
—Brana Freedman, White Plains

A: The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was constructed around the turn of the 18th century, may be the oldest standing church in the state (its exact date is unclear). Currently owned by the First Reformed Church of Tarrytown, the building is still used—for some seasonal services and for special events. Notably, the legendary church sits atop the Old Dutch Burying Ground (not to be confused with the bordering Sleepy Hollow Cemetery). The church and its burial grounds made a cameo as the home of the Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Got a question that might stump us? Send it to edit@westchestermagazine.com. Subject line: Ask Westchester.

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