Norfolk St. Synagogue Puts Demolition Plan on Hold

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street.

The Lo-Down has learned this morning that the leadership of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol has decided, at least for the moment, to drop its bid to demolish the synagogue’s historic home at 60 Norfolk St.  The Landmarks Preservation Commission was notified on Friday that a hardship application seeking permission to tear down the distressed 1850 building was being put on hold, according to the synagogue’s rabbi, Mandl Greenbaum.

A short time ago, the rabbi told us he and the synagogue’s board of directors had decided to “suspend the application for three months to explore alternatives to demolition.”  Last December, the congregation filed papers with the landmarks board, arguing that there was no choice but to replace the deteriorating building with a new mixed-use complex, including apartments and a ground-floor shul.  Preservation groups have been mobilizing to prevent the move.

LES Preservationists: Tell the Landmarks Commission to Save Synagogue

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk St.

We’ve been following the plight of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the shuttered synagogue at 60 Norfolk St. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is weighing a proposal from the synagogue to demolish the building, which was protected in 1967.  Today a local preservation group, Friends of the Lower East Side, is weighing in. Here’s part of the email we received a short time ago:

In recent years, fire, water damage and, especially, a failure to maintain the building have all contributed to the building’s degradation. This seems to be a case of “demolition by neglect,” for which the synagogue should not be rewarded. Currently, efforts are being made for an impartial structural engineering report to assess the condition of the building… It is important for everyone to email the Landmarks Preservation Commission asking that they reject the request for demolition of this landmarked historic building. . Click here to contact LPC.

Rabbi Mandl Greenbaum has told us the only realsitic option at this point is to knock down the building and then construct a new condo complex with a synagogue on the ground floor. Sustained efforts to raise money to restore the synagogue or find a developer willing to restore the building failed, he said.


Followup: Norfolk Street Synagogue’s Last Stand?

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street.

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.

Landmarked Synagogue Seeks Demolition Approval

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street.

There’s big news tonight concerning Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the historic synagogue at 60 Norfolk Street.  The leadership of the shuttered site has filed an application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission seeking permission to demolish the building to make way for a new residential development.  Their proposal calls for a mixed-use complex with a new synagogue on the ground floor.

Commission spokesperson Elisabeth De Bourbon confirmed a short time ago that the application has been received, and that LPC staff would be reviewing it.  When that process is complete, the matter will be brought before the full commission. Beth Hamedrash Hagadol was declared a city landmark in 1967.  In recent years, fire, water damage and a failure to maintain the building have all contributed to the building’s degradation. Rabbi Mendl Greenbaum made the decision to close the synagogue four years ago.

Followup: Jewish Conservancy’s Work to Preserve Norfolk Street Synagogue

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street.

Earlier this week, we published a story about the future of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the landmarked synagogue at 60 Norfolk Street.  The synagogue’s rabbi, Mendl Greenbaum, has been looking for developers interested in purchasing and restoring the run-down building, while providing some space in the facility for religious services.  The story made reference to efforts by the LES Jewish Conservancy to help the rabbi secure public funds for the building’s rehabilitation.  Today we have a few more details about the Conservancy’s advocacy on behalf of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.

  • Former City Councilman Alan Gerson earmarked $750,000 in capital funds for the synagogue’s preservation in 2006.  Those funds were rescinded as the economic downturn set in two years later.  Rabbi Greenbaum had been in the process of applying for non-profit status with the state, a requirement of the city grant.  The recession forced the city to pull back on any projects that had not already begun.
  • In late 2008, the Conservancy was awarded a  planning grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  The grant enabled it to hire Li -Saltzman Architects, a well-known preservation firm, to conduct a comprehensive study of the building and to develop architectural plans for restoration.  It was an 18-month undertaking.  In the past month, the Conservancy noted, the rabbi asked for access to those plans.
  • Last year, a New York state Historic Preservation matching grant of $230,000 was turned down by Rabbi Greenbaum. According to the Conservancy, he chose not to accept the grant “due to the lack of an existing match” and because of a number of restrictions the synagogue would have been required to honor if the funds had been accepted.


Rabbi Seeks Partners in Synagogue Restoration

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street.

If you think you’ve seen more guys in suits walking in and out of Lower East Side buildings lately, it’s probably not your imagination.  Real estate insiders say interest in the neighborhood has skyrocketed this summer.  The reason is simple: the impending approval of the sweeping Seward Park residential and retail development plan. Unsurprisingly, developers are hoping to snap up properties around the seven acre development parcel as quickly (and as cheaply) as they possibly can.  So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that there’s been renewed interest of late in one of the LES’s most neglected historic sites — the shuttered Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue at 60 Norfolk Street.

The distressed building sits right in the middle of the Seward Park development area.  Interestingly, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol’s legendary spiritual leader, Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, led a successful effort in 1967 to designate the Gothic Revival structure as a New York City landmark.  1967 was the year that almost every other Seward Park building was bulldozed in the name of urban renewal.   But now, 45 years later, neglect and decay might accomplish what the bulldozers did not.

Three Men Arrested for Allegedly Trying to Steal From Synagogue

Three men were charged with breaking into Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, 60 Norfolk Street, on Sunday. According to the Daily News, they were caught by Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum trying to steal copper memorials from the wall. Several other religious articles were damaged.

“I ran out and called the cops immediately,” Greenbaum tod the News. “I just wanted to cry at seeing such desecration.”  Jose Cruz, Ambioris Gonzalez and Carlos Rodriguez were charged with burglary and “damaging houses of worship or religious articles.” Bail is $10,000 for Gonzalez and $15,000 for Rodriguez. Cruz has not yet been arraigned.

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol is the oldest Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation in the country, but has been closed for several years due to fire and water damage. The LES Jewish Conservancy has been trying to restore the building but the project has been stalled by financial troubles and other difficulties.

Snow Day on the L.E.S., Take Two

There wasn't too much traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge bike lane.

Schools closed, traffic snarled and most mass transit stuttered, but for those who ventured around the Lower East Side and the East Village on foot today, there was plenty of snowy scenery to appreciate.

Wednesday’s one-two punch of a storm that ended in the wee hours of Thursday brought record-breaking snowfall, making January 2011 the snowiest ever. With an official measurement of 19 inches in Central Park, the storm ranks as the eighth largest snow storm in New York history. (The Dec. 26, 2010, blizzard ranked sixth.)

More pictures after the jump.

Inside Jewish Sacred Sites with the LES Conservancy

The LES Jewish Conservancy's new visitor center, 400 Grand Street.

Last month, we reported the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy is preparing to open a new Visitor Center at 400 Grand Street later this summer.  If you walk by the storefront, formerly Ruby’s Fruits, you might notice a poster promoting the Conservancy’s new “Insider Tours,” abbreviated versions of their more detailed neighborhood walking excursions. Recently, we were invited to experience the tours for ourselves.