Landmarks Commission Approves “Careful” Demolition of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk St.

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk St.

The leadership of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission this morning to argue for the demolition of their fire-ravaged synagogue at 60 Norfolk St. The commissioners signaled their reluctance to approve an application for full demolition. Instead, they want to see the preservation of as much of the landmark-protected building as possible.

The 167-year-old synagogue was set on fire May 14, allegedly by teenage boys. Bryan Chester, an engineer at Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, told commissioners that the building is unstable and that very little of the remaining facade is salvageable. The firm was hired by the synagogue to assess the condition of the 167-year-old structure, which has suffered from decades of neglect. The Department of Buildings and an engineer working for the Landmarks Preservation Commission concur with Chester’s findings.

During today’s hearing, however, the commissioners alluded to the historic importance of the building, once home to the oldest congregation of Russian Jews in this country. While acknowledging that some portions of the synagogue must be taken down for safety reasons, they urged the property owners to conduct demolition work carefully. Commission staff this afternoon are drafting a resolution approving limited demolition, under the supervision of the agency’s engineering consultant.

Once that resolution has been approved, we’ll update this story and also have a full recap from today’s hearing.

UPDATE 4:37 p.m. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the application for demolition, but made several modifications. LPC determined that portions of the building (particularly on the west, north and south facades) are structurally unsound and unsafe and must be removed. The commission stated that the demolition work must be conducted carefully in order to save as much of the building as possible. The sole purpose of the demolition is to stabilize the facades. The LPC is instructing the building owners to salvage significant architectural features and finished materials. Finally, the commission’s engineering firm will be monitoring the demolition work.