We just returned from Norfolk Street, where city inspectors are trying to determine the next steps in the aftermath of Sunday night’s horrible fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.
Staff from the Department of Buildings are on the scene, along with the fire marshal and Mendel Greenbaum, rabbi of the historic Lower East Side synagogue. A search of the basement has taken place (it was not burned), but going inside what’s left of the main level has been impossible. “No way we can search the first floor, with what collapsed on top of it,” Manhattan Borough Commander Roger Sakowich told Channel 2 yesterday.
Last night, Yehuda Oshry (son of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol’s legendary former rabbi) told us fire officials are evaluating whether the remaining walls need to be taken down immediately for safety reasons. This morning, Greenbaum said no decisions have been made because the fire department and buildings department are still figuring out how to access the building interior. Yesterday the Department of Buildings took the routine step of issuing a full vacate order until a structural stability inspection is conducted.
Meanwhile, investigators are still looking over videotape showing three people running in the vicinity of the synagogue Sunday night. It isn’t known whether they were inside the building, where the fire was almost certainly set. Local resident Rich Caplan said his wife saw someone jumping over the fence “They didn’t look around to case the joint, they just jumped over the fence, went up through the windows that’s on the side of the synagogue and that was it,” Caplan told Channel 2.
One issue to be determined: the fate of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol’s status as a city landmark (a designation it has held since 1967). Today, Landmarks Preservation Commission spokesperson Sonia Edghill tells us, “The Department of Buildings is investigating the condition and LPC will be coordinating closely with DOB to determine the stability of the remaining fabric. LPC will not take any steps on the status of the designation until the investigation is completed. Any potential changes to the designation status of the property would require review by the full Commission at a public hearing.”
More photos from the scene today: