In 1852, 21 Jews founded the first Jewish congregation in Washington, D.C.—the Washington Hebrew Congregation, according to www.sixthandi.org. When faced with Reform Judaism in 1869, 38 Jews from the Washington Hebrew Congregation resigned and established the Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation to focus on more traditional Jewish practices.
The first Adas Israel Synagogue, located at the corner of Sixth and G Streets, NW, was dedicated in 1876. President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication. When the congregation outgrew the synagogue in 1899, members adopted a plan to build a new synagogue.
After selling the existing property in 1905, the congregation bought a lot at the corner of Sixth and I Streets. In 1906, architect Louis Levi and builder Arthur Coswill began construction on the new synagogue. It was the first building in the district that had a reinforced concrete foundation. The building, which cost $90,000 to build, was dedicated Jan. 5, 1908.
As the congregation's membership continued to grow, it relocated, building a new sanctuary at Connecticut Ave., Porter and Quebec Streets. As the new synagogue was dedicated in 1951, the building at Sixth and I Streets was sold to Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church, which renovated the interior. In 1979, Turner Memorial built an activity center next to its church.
Turner Memorial put the building at Sixth and I Streets up for sale in 2002 so it could relocate to Hyattsville, Md. Laura Cohen Apelbaum, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society, launched an effort to reacquire the building for the Jewish community. Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin and real estate developers Shelton Zuckerman and Douglas Jemal saved the building, pledging to turn it into a Jewish community facility. Washington architect Shalom Baranes and Associates oversaw the restoration of the building to its original state.
The building was rededicated as Sixth and I Historic Synagogue on April 22, 2004. It since has hosted various high-profile visitors, including former President George W. Bush, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It also has garnered prestigious recognition, such as receiving a Slingshot Award in 2007 as one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in the U.S. and being named by Newsweek as one of the 25 most vibrant congregations in the U.S.