If several neighborhood preservation organizations have their way, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will soon take steps to protect the 1931 Bialystoker building, which until recently was used a a nursing home. The endeavor faces an uphill battle as developers move to demolish the building at 228 East Broadway in favor of upscale apartments.
Representatives from various groups who comprise the Friends of the Lower East Side coalition made their case for preservation on Sunday while also offering a portrait of the home’s rich history and unique role on the LES. It was all part of a panel discussion, “The Bialystoker Home: Past, Present, Future.”
Sponsored by the Seward Park Preservation & History Club and held in a community room at the Seward Park Co-op, the Bialystoker Home’s closest neighbor, the discussion featured historians and leaders of LES organizations committed to landmarking the building. As we reported on Nov. 2, the home closed its doors after 80 years, leaving the fate of the vintage building in jeopardy. More than 100 elderly patients were relocated to other facilities.
During yesterday’s discussion, panelists detailed the history of the 81-year-old building which was established by immigrant Jews from Bialystok, Poland who formed landsmanshaftn, or mutual aid societies in New York, Buenos Aires and other cities where concentrations of Bialystokers re-settled. They built the Bialystoker Home for the Aged on East Broadway as a headquarters for their work and a facility to care for the elderly.
Rebecca Kobrin, author of “Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora” told a capacity crowd that the building is architecturally significant not only for its art deco elements but distinctive Jewish symbols and imagery including 12 medallions that represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.
The Home’s board of directors has put the building up for sale for a reported $12 to $14 million, according to Mitchell Grubler, founding member of Friends of the Bialystoker Home and vice president, Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance. Grubler made an impassioned plea to the audience, asking them to support the campaign for landmark status. He urged attendees to sign postcards and letters that were provided to present to Robert Tierney, chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. He also urged LES residents and Bialystok supporters to contact City Councilwoman Margaret Chin (District 1).
Friends of the Lower East Side represents a coalition of more than a dozen groups including the Art Deco Society of New York, Gotham Center for New York City History/CUNY, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Click here for more information about writing to the Landmarks Commission.
Later today, we’ll have more details about the politics of the preservation effort on behalf of the former Bialystoker Home.