The other day my colleague Alison Wellner reported on Newport, Rhode Island's Cliff Walk controversy over the much disputed public right-of-way. Not everything going on in the famed seaside town is controversial, however; on a brighter note, The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom just celebrated the opening of the new Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center (above), which has won praise for great design complementing its historical context. The Loeb Center is located at Touro Synagogue, the oldest functioning synagogue building in the nation. First dedicated in 1763, it was designed by America's first architect, Peter Harrison.
The Institute's mission is to promote awareness of the historic roots of religious liberty in America. In addition to the Loeb Visitors Center, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom supports educational and scholarship programs for individuals seeking to learn about and discuss the origins and development of American religious liberties. John L. Loeb Jr. is the Chairman of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom and is the former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. Through the Institute, he donated both the land and the new Visitors Center building. The Loeb Center further interprets and celebrates the history and architecture of Touro Synagogue, renowned for its beauty.
The Loeb Visitors Center features interactive, multimedia exhibits exploring the meaning and importance of George Washington's 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, the first and clearest presidential expression of support for American's constitutional right to the free exercise of religious belief and the separation of church and state. Writing about the Loeb Center in the Providence Journal, architecture critic David Brussat noted, "It is obviously a classical building, yet it is unlike any other. No work of classicism could possibly depart from canon with greater dignity, hence no building could possibly fit onto a historic street with greater distinction."