Assessing the Scorched Remains of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue on Norfolk Street [PHOTOS]

Posted on: May 15th, 2017 at 8:08 am by

The morning after the major 3-alarm fire that tore through Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street, the crisp air is silent but for the work of firefighters. That pungent stink of charred wood and smoke still fills the air blocks away.

It’s in ruins.

Fire crews worked through the night to ensure the blaze was indeed extinguished. Not much is left. The ceiling collapsed at around 7:45pm last night – right as the fire was brought under control – and a steady stream of water was applied thereafter. At one point there were more than a hundred firefighters battling the blaze; no one was reported injured.

Officials are now investigating cause of the blaze, while suspicions are on the rise. Investigators believe the fire started from inside the historic congregation, reports NBC 4.

It’s difficult to reconcile the images post-fire, even though the synagogue was long vacant and in ill repair.

This fire is, in so many ways, emblematic of the swift change on the Lower East Side. Years from now, we’ll look back at this fire as the last gasp of the neighborhood before its permanent transformation into Essex Crossing-led makeover. When the new, post-peak gentrification finally scorched the historic roots. Indeed, during cleanup this morning, the most vocal sound was the clanking at Site 2 for the 24-story “Gateway” tower.

The historic Gothic Revival synagogue was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and purchased by the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol congregation in 1885 for $45,000 (about $1.2 million today). In its landmarking, the New York City Landmarks Commission found that “Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest, and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”

Preservation seemed futile in recent years, though. The upkeep of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol became too expensive for congregants. Moreover, even though it’s been protected since 1967, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum had, at one point, petitioned the LPC to de-landmark the structure so that condominiums could be built instead. As a trade, a small synagogue would be built on the ground floor for the floundering congregation.

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