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.

Recent Stories

‘Writing On It All’ Reclaims Space For Community Arts On Governor’s Island

There’s one more week to write and draw on a Nolan Park House. Just a short ferry ride away from the LES, Governors Island is an adventure that we should all take, and regularly as weather allows. For one more week you can catch the community-oriented interactive installation, ‘Writing On It All.’ Nolan Park House […]

Hanksy Brings ‘Market Surplus’ of 10 Artists to Paint Vacant Essex Market Warehouse

Street artist Hanksy this week continues the tradition of hosting art shows in buildings doomed for demolition. With the Lowline Lab months in the grave, he’s gathered a gaggle of creative friends for a group exhibition inside the vacant Essex Street Market building at 140 Essex. The show – dubbed “Market Surplus” (get it?) – […]

Traipsing Around Town with Ugo Rondinone’s ‘I ♥ John Giorno’

Imagine having been part of the Beat Generation and Pop Art era. You could go to a phone booth (remember those?) and dial a poem; You could be filmed by Andy Warhol for hours – while sleeping; You might even be neighbors on the Bowery with William Burroughs. Or be a fly on the wall, […]

Someone Trashed the Blueprints for the Ace Hotel Bowery on the Sidewalk

Trash is sometimes treasure. Everyone knows that 225 Bowery is to become the newest Ace Hotel in the stable. However, the company never officially confirmed their intentions here. Even as the transformative construction work atop the building proceeds. Well, official blueprints trashed on Chrystie Street late Tuesday night all but confirm this. We had received […]

Essex Street Light Poles are Now LED-Equipped

The lighting scheme along Essex Street is presently undergoing a complete shift to more modern technology. That warm glow is now replaced with the blinding antiseptic flood of LED. The Department of Transportation has begun swapping the infrastructure, and at least four new poles are now installed. We caught this crew hoisting one into place […]