Scope and Contents
One folder of programs from events at Congregation Emanu El and Brith Shalom, a photograph of Joseph Silverman at a construction site, a newsclipping about Melvin Silverman's death, and a Beth Yeshurun newsletter documents some of the events in the lives of the Topek and Silverman families between the years 1951 and 1980. Of particular interest is a photograph of Joseph Silverman on the construction site of Houston's first modern skyscraper, the Melrose building, downtown.
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Biographical / Historical
Houston developer Melvin A. Silverman was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts on January 24, 1908. He married Lina “Lee” Brown and the two had four daughters. One of their daughters, Toby Marilyn Silverman married Samuel Zigmund Topek in Houston on February 17, 1952. Their son, Joseph Solomon Topek, was born in Houston on March 7, 1955.
Silverman began working for an architectural firm in New York. When it closed during the Great Depression, he opened his own firm and began renovating apartments, office buildings and tenements for banking institutions. He soon found work setting up developments in Norfolk, Va., Mobile, Ala., and Texas City, eventually settling in Houston.
He and his partner Bennett Rose hired noted Houston architects Hermon Lloyd and W.B. Morgan to design the 21-story office building at the intersection of Walker and San Jacinto Streets downtown. The two developers named the building the Melrose Building from the combination of both of their names. Silverman and Rose gave the architects an unusual amount of freedom for the design of the proposed skyscraper. Their only request was that, before beginning the design of the building, Lloyd and Morgan thoroughly research all the most modern materials, techniques, and equipment available so that the new building would be “completely serviceable and yet of a type to command the immediate attention of the public.” Silverman’s vision was of a new, modern office building that would be a departure from Houston’s earlier skyscrapers. The building was completed in 1951 and building established what would become a standard Houston typology: a tower marked by projecting sun shades that both shielded the interior from the blazing Texas sun and gave aesthetic definition to the exterior. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Members of Houston’s Jewish community in the 1950s sought to create a Jewish presence on the campus of the Texas Medical Center, by building a Jewish hospital. After learning of matching federal funds for medical research, Dr. Bernard Farfel approached builder Melvin Silverman with the idea of building a research center, and architect Joseph Krakower was contacted. The three enlisted the support of banker Irvin Shlenker, Jewish Community Council leader Albert Goldstein and then Jewish Herald-Voice publisher David H. White. The Jewish Institute for Medical Research was born. The four-story building would be built by the TMC and would adjoin the then-new M.D. Anderson Basic Science Building. Fundraising began in earnest, and groundbreaking ceremonies took place on June 7, 1960. Rabbi Hyman J. Schachtel of Temple Beth Israel delivered the invocation; Rabbi William S. Malev of Congregation Beth Yeshurun offered the benediction; and Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Congregation Emanu El conducted the “Blessing of the Ground.” Some 1,000 members of the Jewish community contributed to the creation of the JIMR, and fundraising was so successful that the institute topped out at nine stories! As the building neared completion, a dinner took place on Nov. 13, 1962. It featured world-renowned Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the oral polio vaccine. Tragically, however, Melvin Silverman collapsed during opening remarks, the dinner was canceled, and he died that evening as the result of a stroke. Silverman was buried at Emanu El Memorial Park in Houston.
Lee Silverman Freed died on August 13, 1975, and is also buried at Emanu El Memorial Park in Houston.