About the Building

COCA's Building History

About the BuildingHere's the story of synagogue that was a work of art and how it became a successful incubator for art itself.

An Idea Sparks

In early 1985, developer Richard D. Baron and his firm completed the restoration of the original University City High School into a mixed use project, Lewis Center, which included new space for Washington University's School of Fine Arts. During the construction of Lewis Center, a number of arts organizations contacted Baron about the availability of rental space there. Although unable to accommodate them, Baron began thinking about the possibility of creating a visual and performing arts center for small arts organizations. Coincidentally, he was contacted by representatives of the B'nai Amoona Congregation who were interested in selling their synagogue on Trinity Avenue that had been designed in 1950 by the internationally recognized architect Eric Mendelsohn.

The synagogue was on the National Register of Historic Places and was built by St. Louis master builder I. E. Millstone, a legend in the construction industry. It had a wonderful legacy involving community leaders such as Ken Kranzberg, whose father was president of the congregation when Mendelsohn and Millstone were hired. Andrew Trivers of Trivers Associates envisioned the transformation of the magnificent sanctuary, with its distinctive parabolic roof, into a theatre and the light-filled classrooms into studios for the visual and performing arts.

A Community Collaboration

Baron discussed his idea for an arts center with local artist and friend, Dorothy Dubinsky, who had been looking for studio space for a group of painters, and she enthusiastically agreed to work on the project. Thus began the partnership that created COCA. Dubinsky worked with Trivers on the redesign of interior spaces and the small garden of the synagogue, while Baron and his former partner, Steven Stogel, and their associates oversaw the financing and construction of COCA. The initial $2 million renovation plan was made possible by major gifts from Bob Orchard, Louis Sachs and McCormack Baron with financing provided by Mark Twain Bank, under the leadership of John Dubinsky and Adam Aronson. A synagogue that was a work of art became a successful incubator for art itself.

COCA Expands

After many years of providing meaningful arts instruction and experiences, COCA was bursting at the seams. Redesigning and expanding the building became necessary. In September 2004, after considerable planning by its staff, faculty and Board of Directors, COCA embarked on an addition. Mindful of Eric Mendelsohn's original spirit and intentions, Trivers Associates designed the addition and renovation to accommodate a burgeoning student population and upgraded the facilities to meet the needs of students, professional dance companies, artists and actors.

With the new 11,000 square foot addition and 36,000 square foot renovation dedicated in the fall of 2005, COCA's ability to provide imaginative and meaningful arts programming was greatly enhanced.

Read more about COCA's history


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