Morning Photos: Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Destroyed By Fire

Photo by Cindy Maisonave.

Photo by Cindy Maisonave.

Here are the first heartbreaking photos this morning from 60 Norfolk St., the former Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue, which was ravaged by fire last night.

As you can see the facade and the entire interior from the 167-year-old city landmark are gone. This morning, fire investigators continue to search for clues revealing how the building caught on fire shortly before 7 p.m.

As we reported late last night, kids have been going in and out of the building in recent weeks. There was a small fire in the synagogue a week ago. Rabbi Mendl Greenbaum told us  authorities are looking at security camera tapes to determine whether the kids may have been on the scene last night. Greenbaum also told us he was scheduled to meet with representatives of the Landmarks Preservation Commission this week about a possible plan to restore the synagogue, which has been empty since 2007. He had been working with the Chinese American Planning Council, which has been seeking to develop a parcel it owns behind the synagogue.

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Today news crews are set up at the corner of Grand Street and Norfolk. Broome Street and Norfolk Street are closed to auto and pedestrian traffic.

We’ll have more throughout the day. The Department of Buildings and Landmarks Commission are expected to make initial assessments of the building today. although it’s apparent this morning that there’s little left to salvage. Beth Hamedrash Hagadol has been a New York City landmark since 1967.

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More Images From the Fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol

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The image above and the video below are both from Richard Brennan.

These photos are by Lonnie Duka:

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Latest Developments: Fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol

Photo by Rich Caplan.

Photo by Rich Caplan.

We have more details on tonight’s devastating fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the 167-year-old synagogue building at 60 Norfolk St.

More than 100 firefighters fought the blaze, which broke out just before 7 p.m. It was under control by about 8:50 p.m., but not before ravaging the historic landmark. Thankfully, no one was injured.

A short time ago, we spoke with Rabbi Mendl Greenbaum, who was on the scene to begin assessing the damage to the building. The synagogue was shuttered in 2007. He told us that groups of young people had entered the property in recent weeks. Police have been called on numerous occasions, he said. They apparently set a small fire last Sunday evening (exactly one week ago).  A TLD reader, Paul Power, sent us the photo you see below, showing fire trucks in front of the synagogue Sunday, May 7. Greenbaum said authorities are checking security cameras in the area for evidence that the same kids were on the scene tonight.

Greenbaum said he was scheduled to pay a visit to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the coming week to discuss the future of the building. He was to be accompanied by representatives of the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC), which owns the parcel behind the building. CPC has for many years been contemplating a new commercial building on the site. Greenbaum said a development plan for both parcels was to include the renovation of the dilapidated synagogue building.

In 2012, Greenbaum filed a hardship application with the Landmarks Commission, seeking permission to demolish the building. Under pressure from preservation groups, he withdrew the application. Several organizations, including the New York Landmarks Conservancy, have been advocating for a full restoration. Beth Hamedrash Hagadol is the oldest synagogue of Russian Jews in this country.  It was built in 1850 as a church.

Earlier tonight, City Council member Margaret Chin was on site to gather information and to assist residents of the Hong Ning senior housing complex, located next door to the synagogue. The elevators were shut down for a time, and there was concern about tenants potentially suffering smoke inhalation, or having to evacuate. Fortunately, they were all okay, and evacuations were not necessary. Chin called the fire “devastating,” and said officials will be “working hard to save the historic landmark.”  Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou also put out a statement tonight, saying she was in close contact with emergency officials and staff members were on Norfolk Street to assist residents with any pressing needs.

Wayne Ho, president and CEO of Chinese American Planning Council was in the lobby of the Hong Ning building, as well (his organization owns the property). He declined to discuss any potential development of the site adjacent to Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, except to say that, “many conversations have been taking place.”

It will be tomorrow before Department of Buildings inspectors get their first look inside the badly damaged building. Local preservationists already fear the worst, strongly suspecting that the cherished Jewish sacred site will be condemned and demolished. The now charred and gutted synagogue, of course, sits right in the middle of the Essex Crossing development site. As a vacant parcel, it would be worth many millions.

Last Sunday evening, May 7. Photo by Paul Power.

Last Sunday evening, May 7. Photo by Paul Power.

Video & Photos: Fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol

Here are more photos and video from the scene of the huge fire that broke out tonight at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the historicsynagogue at 60 Norfolk St. We’re told that the fire is just about out at this point but not before a great deal of damage was done to the city landmark, which was abandoned several years ago.

This photo is from Rich Caplan:


From Dennis Hollingsworth:


From Linda Jones:


From Lauren Barack:


Breaking: Fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue


Firefighters are battling to save what’s left of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the historic synagogue at 60 Norfolk St. You can see and smell the smoke from blocks away on the Lower East Side tonight. It’s a three alarm fire that threatens to completely destroy the city landmark.

The 167-year-old building is one of the most significant Jewish sits on the LES. It was abandoned in 2007. Three years later, , the synagogue filed a hardship application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, seeking permission to demolish its historic home. Due to community pressure, that application was withdrawn.

A smaller fire broke out in the building May 7. Firefighters quickly brought it under control.


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