Jan 3, 2024

updated Jan 26, 2024

Respecting the Past, Building for the Future

Alum Profile — Stuart Zuckerman ’84

(Copyright Capital Jewish Museum. Photo: Chris Ferenzi Photography)

During his career in construction and real estate development, Stuart Zuckerman ’84 has overseen plenty of complex, high-end projects. None were quite like one of his latest.

A longtime Board member and former President of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington — Stuart served as point person for the construction of the Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum in Northwest Washington, D.C. The multi-year, $34 million project, which included relocating an historic synagogue and navigating complexities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, opened in June.

“This has been an enormously complicated project,” notes Stuart, who began his career building homes and gradually moved into bigger hotel, multi-family, and retail projects. “The legal terms were complex, the financing was complex, and the construction was complex.”

(Courtesy Capital Jewish Museum. Photo: Daniel Swartz)

Seeds for the 35,000-square-foot museum go back more than a decade, beginning with the planning for Capitol Crossing, a major development in Northwest Washington. Because the development wanted to purchase the historical society’s property, and because of their background in the industry, Stuart and a colleague were charged with negotiating arrangements bringing the museum into the project.

Among the items on the to-do list was finding a new home for — and moving — the 1876 Adas Israel synagogue — to make way for the development. The synagogue — the District’s oldest — was owned by the Historical Society and slated to be the centerpiece of the new museum.

The synagogue was moved in 2016 to a temporary home in the middle of Third Street while a 1,200-car parking garage — partially spanning an operating highway and that now serves as the museum’s foundation — was built at Third and F streets. In 2019, the synagogue moved atop its new foundation. Then came the rest of the work.

(With Chris Mitsinikos ’84)

Construction on the 4-story, LEED-certified museum began in November 2020. The building includes three public floors of exhibition galleries, program and event spaces, and a community lab, as well as an outdoor roof terrace.

Throughout the project’s lifecycle, a roughly decade-long span during which Stuart twice served as the Board’s president, he was the Board’s point person for the project.

“This really has been my full-time nonprofit work,” says Stuart, acknowledging the effort’s partners. “We are also fortunate that we hired the right people to execute the project and hired a very good project manager.” The museum’s design firm — the D.C.-based Smith Group — and construction firm — Consigli Construction — are well-versed in large-scale complex endeavors and contributed greatly to the project’s success.

It is also far and away the most complicated project I have ever done. Building a museum is definitely a singular experience.

Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum

Reflecting on his four years at The Hall School, as Miss Hall’s was known during its co-ed years, Stuart enjoyed his experiences. He fondly recalls former Headmaster Bob Bussey, Math Department Chair and Assistant Head Jim Ervin, History Department Chair Trafton Foster, and other faculty. His longtime interest in history led him to earn a degree in History from Vassar College and a master’s in Urban Planning from Cornell University. He is the father of two boys and a girl, all in college.

Of shepherding the Jewish History Museum project, Stuart appreciates the significance of the work.

“In addition to the complexities of the development, the construction itself was itself interesting and complicated, with a lot of intersecting parts and architectural details not found in your typical projects,” he explains. “It is also far and away the most complicated project I have ever done. Building a museum is definitely a singular experience.”