Congregation Beth Israel is the oldest Jewish congregation in Texas. Early Jewish families that settled in the area formed the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1844, under the leadership of Lewis Levy. By 1854, seventeen adults organized themselves into the Hebrew Congregation Beth Israel, and the congregation received a state charter in 1859. Members first met in a small room on Austin Street between Texas and Prairie, but later moved to a frame building on Labranch Street. The congregation’s first permanent synagogue was dedicated on Crawford Street in 1874. A larger synagogue followed in 1908, but waves of immigration, the oil boom and the deepening of the ship channel brought explosive growth to the congregation, and the need for another, larger building became urgent. The new synagogue, located at the corner of Holman and Austin Streets, was designed by congregation member and noted architect Joseph Finger. When the temple was dedicated in 1925, the Houston Chronicle called it “the finest house of worship of its kind in the entire south.”
The temple’s architecture combines traditional classical and near eastern elements, such as large columns and entablatures, in a stylized art moderne style. The brick and limestone building’s square plan and high facades enhance its monumental scale.
In 1969, the congregation moved to a new site in southwest Houston and transferred the property to the Houston Independent School District. The facility served as the first home of Houston’s High School for the Visual and Performing Arts before it was passed to Houston Community College in the early 1980s