Not Everyone Views the Bialystoker Building Through the Same Lens

Photos from Yenta Laureate.
Photos from Yenta Laureate.

This evening Community Board 3 will vote on a resolution in support of saving the Bialystoker Nursing Home building on East Broadway.   Previously, CB3’s landmarks subcommittee and parks committee voted in favor of the resolution, which encourages the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act on an application to protect the endangered building.

We last reported on this issue following the landmarks subcommittee meeting.  Our coverage focused on the “case for demolition,” since it was the first time the Bialystoker Board had detailed in a public setting why it is trying to sell the building as a development site.  Today, we hear from an anonymous preservationist, who obviously sees something in the shuttered nursing home that board members and a lot of members of the Lower East Side’s Orthodox Jewish community do not.

The other day I found myself walking down Clinton Street towards East Broadway noticing how spring had transformed that short, oddly curved block. We’re used to thinking of the Lower East Side as a place of constant change. But that sometimes makes us ignore obvious continuities or even worse, take them for granted.

So I thought about another type of neighborhood transformation that I had seen. A famous photographer, Brian Rose, had given a lecture at La MaMa about his recently published art book Time and Space on the Lower East Side. He used an old viewfinder camera to take photos of the neighborhood, first in the 1970s and then again in 2010. Given the continuities of the neighborhood (and in the technology used to represent it), many of his photos corresponded so well that the surprised audience could not tell that they were taken forty years apart.

While the neighborhood’s ubiquitous changes have accustomed us to seeing things in certain ways, similarly sometimes “Nature” can interrupt those patterns. Yesterday, spring showed that it had arrived at the back of the old Bialystoker Home building. Even softened with a blanket of new greenery, the building’s soaring clear-cut Deco edges still proclaimed themselves joyfully, contrasting markedly with the smoothness of the vividly blue sky. Oddly enough, here was a old age home proudly announcing that Modernity had indeed arrived.The messiah may have tarried, but the Bialystokers didn’t. Busy beavers even in the Depression, they used Deco’s clean lines to announce their building’s arrival, much like spring itself. Yet their slogan which could be viewed until recently in their lobby, was an old-fashioned plea of sorts: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength faileth, forsake me not” (Psalms, 71:9).

Crossing the street onto East Broadway, was the empty lot that marked where the original Young Israel synagogue had been built and remained before being torn down four years ago. As its name implied, Young Israel was founded in the Lower East Side as a religious movement officially embracing modernity. Yet in looking at that site, I immediately flashed back to the neighborhood’s empty lots of the 1970s. Young Israel’s embrace of modernity had somehow turned into one of abandonment. Despite the bright spring sunshine, it still gloomily projected an image of the type of urban blight that had once been the Lower East Side’s calling card.