Shortly before the December holidays we broke the news that the leadership of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, a New York City landmark since 1967, was seeking permission to demolish its 163-year old building on the Lower East Side. The synagogue at 60 Norfolk Street has been closed for five years, the victim of a violent summer storm, fire and neglect. Since our initial story, we have spoken with many people who have been involved over the years in efforts to save the building, including the rabbi now advancing a plan to replace the synagogue with a new, modern residential tower and religious center.
We first interviewed Rabbi Mandl Greenbaum last summer, as he was making a final plea to developers to refurbish the building, creating residences or an events center, with room for the synagogue in a portion of the facility. In a more recent conversation, he explained that these efforts had failed and the synagogue was pursuing what he believes is the only realistic option. On December 21, lawyers representing the congregation, filed a “hardship application” with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a required step anytime the owner of a protected building plans demolition. In place of the 1850 Gothic Revival structure, Greenbaum envisions a 45,000 square foot condo building with room for a small shul and a museum on the ground floor.