- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) - It’s been part of the history of Muscatine for more than 130 years, but now the building at 617 Spring Street that spent much of its life as a Jewish synagogue is facing a new future.

The Muscatine Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1lrozwQ ) the old synagogue building, which has been owned by the Muscatine Masquers theater group since 1991, is up for sale.

The Masquers, who have been using the building as storage for their props and other items, are currently seeking to sell the old synagogue now that the theater group, which last produced a performance in 2007, has started to wind down its operations. The group is using Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors in Muscatine as its real estate agents.

“We thought it would be a good storage place,” said Masquers member Duffy De France. Although the synagogue was never the site of performances, the group would occasionally use the building to read through scripts in preparation for a production.

The building, which eventually became known as the B’nai Moses Synagogue, was built in the 1880’s. According to Betty Collins, a librarian with the Musser Public Library in Muscatine, there was a significant population of Jews in Muscatine that had emigrated from Lithuania at the time of construction.

However, over the years, the congregation slowly declined in membership, and the Jewish population of Muscatine also declined. De France said that by the time the Masquers took over the synagogue, it was difficult for the congregation to have meetings due to a lack of people.

The Masquers first formed in 1962 and performed multiple shows as a community theater group throughout the years. However, the Masquers itself is down to three members and is now looking to disband sometime this year.

De France said that any proceeds from the sale of the synagogue will go to the Greater Muscatine Foundation. The group has also been donating some items to some of the other active community theater groups in the area.

Currently, the building does not have a historic preservation status.

Michael Maharry, President of the Friends of Muscatine Historic Preservation, said his group has discussed the synagogue, but they do not have the available funds to purchase the building. Maharry noted that it might be appropriate for the synagogue to be moved to the Jewish cemetery near Menards, but noted that solution might be cost-prohibitive.

“It always comes down to that (money),” Maharry said.

He added that it would be easier for historic homes and buildings to be preserved if previous owners don’t forget to maintain those buildings, thus not making future preservation cost-prohibitive.

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Information from: Muscatine Journal, http://www.muscatinejournal.com