In the days ahead you’re likely to see increased activity around Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the fire ravaged synagogue at 60 Norfolk St.
This is because the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and the Department of Buildings have approved, “emergency stabilization” work on the devastated 167-year-old landmark. In other words, partial demolition is about to begin.
On May 14, the synagogue was set on fire, allegedly by teenage boys, who snuck inside the building. In July, the Landmarks Commission approved the owner’s plan for a careful demolition of those parts of the synagogue which are unstable. The commission urged engineers to proceed cautiously, in the hopes of saving some part of the historic Jewish site.
The commission provided us with the following statement yesterday:
At the public hearing of July 11, 2017, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved dismantling portions of the building that are unstable and unsafe. The LPC and DOB approvals provide for slowly removing the walls of the building until they reach a stable level.
In the document embedded below, you can read more details from the LPC’s Certificate of Appropriateness, which was issued Nov. 30. The commission has approved, “building-wide emergency stabilization work, including demolition of unstable top sections of the masonry walls and towers…”
The LPC determined that the fire earlier this year “significantly damaged the building,” and that, “portions of the building, especially on the west, north and south facades are structurally unsound and unsafe and need to be removed…” In approving the application, however, “the commission required that the work be done carefully to minimize the amount of material that must be removed and shall continue only to the point where it is feasible to stabilize the facades and eliminate threats to public safety.” The commission ordered the owners to salvage “significant architectural features and finished material.” An engineer hired by LPC is monitoring the work.
The Gothic Revival-style building opened as a church in 1850. It was altered in 1885 for Beth Hamedrash Hagadol and became a city landmark in 1967. The commission noted that the building has been in a state of decay for many years. The congregation closed the synagogue in 1997.
The synagogue’s leaders have been working with the Chinese American Planning Council, which owns a parcel behind Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, to develop a new residential building and community facility. They were scheduled to go before Community Board 3 some time ago to outline their plans but the presentation was canceled.