Chabad plans major renovation of Lazaroff building in U. City

An artist’s rendering of Chabad’s renovated Morris and Ann Lazaroff building at 8124 Delmar Boulevard.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Chabad of Greater St. Louis is planning a major renovation to its University City building that could drastically change the look of the structure both inside and out.

“It reminds me of what they did with the Staenberg building out at the (Jewish Community Center) when they renovated the administrative offices,” said Neil Lazaroff. “They did a complete gutting like we’re planning here. It made it feel like it was a brand new building.”

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Lazaroff and his brother Gary are both taking a lead role in the campaign for the project to remake the facility at 8124 Delmar Boulevard, which bears the names of their parents, Morris and Ann Lazaroff. The building itself will stay at 3,500 square feet but it will be augmented with a three-season, 1,000-square-foot outdoor covered patio.

The interior will feature movable partitions, which can open to create a venue for larger events.

Other highlights of the revamp will include the addition of kitchen facilities and the creation of a meeting room. New lighting and audio/visual equipment, including smartboards and projectors, will be wired in to accommodate educational programming and the entire building will be refurnished. A library will be created to centralize book storage.

A $720,000 fundraising campaign to back the effort is just kicking off. However, Chabad leaders say about half the money has already been raised.

Rabbi Levi Landa, the organization’s program director, said Chabad has been in the structure for 16 years, yet found the space limiting, given the diversity of its programming.

“This forced us, with all our various programs, to go offsite when we’re dealing with scheduling issues,” he said. “This is an opportunity to custom make a space that will suit the vast majority of the programs that we’d like to do or are already doing.”

He expects some programs like Chabad’s olive press and shofar making workshops to be housed in the finished facility while others, like the Model Matzah Bakery, will remain offsite. He also hopes that new programming will be offered.

“Within this footprint we’re going to have a tremendous amount of usage without having to go through the expense of an expansion,” he said. “It’s really not an exaggeration when we estimate that we could be able to double capacity at certain large events.”

The three-season covered patio is something the group hopes will boost attendance during warm weather. The patio area will include the ability to put up tent walls.

“You have restaurants out in Clayton and when you put space out on the sidewalk, you fill up the sidewalk faster than you fill up the restaurant,” said Neil Lazaroff. “People want to be outside so it is really going to be an area that is attractive nine months out of the year.”

The front will see a significant facelift as well with new windows, improved landscaping and a façade that doubles the building’s outdoor height. The structure will also be crowned with an analog clock featuring Hebrew characters.

The hope is to present a warmer, homier appearance for what was formerly a savings and loan. The old vault, which is still in the building more than a decade and a half later, will finally be removed.

Landa’s father, Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director, said it was fitting that the Lazaroffs take a role in the project, noting that their parents had been associated with the institution since its inception in 1981.

“It’s become something of a family tradition in terms of their support for Chabad,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have them.”

Chabad’s unique non-denominational, non-membership-based approach will present a special situation for fundraising. Since there is no official membership, the organization plans to cast a wide net. In that sense, it is much like its diverse programming, which runs the gamut from matzah-baking events for children to for-credit continuing legal education classes for lawyers.

“The term that is sometimes used to describe this is cafeteria-style programming,” said the elder Landa. “In a membership-based programming, you build a building for the people that you serve, which is your membership. We see ourselves as serving the entire community.”

Levi Landa reaffirmed that point.

“At Chabad, you already belong,” he said. “We don’t want to put up that hindrance [of membership] because it takes a lot for people to buy into that and this makes our work accessible to virtually anyone in the Jewish community. You can have a membership somewhere else and still partake of all the wonderful programs that Chabad offers.”

Leadership expects the campaign to run for about six months with construction consuming another three.

“I think the fact that we’re halfway there means that we’re going to be all the way as far as funding,” said Gary Lazaroff. “It’ll be a reality.”

The Lazaroff Center is the administrative office for all three Chabad outlets in the area. The entity also has affiliates in Chesterfield and at Washington University.