Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Won’t Survive, Here’s Why

Posted on: June 21st, 2017 at 5:00 am by

The fire-ravaged Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, on the Lower East Side for 167 years, is coming down. And there isn’t much that can be salvaged. That was the determination presented to the Landmarks subcommittee of Community Board 3 last night, alongside news that the Department of Buildings already approves full demolition of the city-designated landmark.

Structural engineers from Zimmerman Architects provided an update on the current conditions of the fire-ravaged synagogue. It’s not pretty (see map below).

  • The north tower and the Broome Street wall are severely compromised and must come down. In some places a single brick is all that stands between collapse.
  • The south tower could be saved, but it’s still “full of holes” and fissures.
  • The rear (east) wall is in the best relative condition when compared to the rest of the structure.
  • The south wall has severe masonry deterioration, albeit with portions in decent shape.
  • The partially collapsed roof and severely damaged roof tried are beyond repair. 
  • Masonry locations too unstable for safe shoring.  
  • The DOB concurs with the assessment that the structure, as it stands, is unstable.
  • Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum and Zimmerman reiterated the committment to saving as much of the building as possible.

Neither inspectors from Zimmerman nor the DOB could safely gain access for more concrete analysis of stability. Plus, the Catch-22 of it all is that can’t happen until demolition, partial or otherwise, begins.

The presentation also doubled as an opportunity to explain the potential development that was allegedly in the works before tragedy struck. Rabbi Greenbaum and the Chinese-American Planning Council (senior building next door) “embarked on a collaboration” to create a development atop Beth Hamedrash that would serve the Jewish and Chinese communities alike. The synagogue would be rehabilitated through the sale of its air rights (estimated pre-fire at some $12 million), and there would be affordable housing and community space. Apparently, the deal was set to be heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission the Wednesday after the Sunday evening fire.

Those plans are now on shaky ground.

When it came time for public testimony, the attacks surfaced. Suspicion remains in the air one month after the arson. Despite the fact that a 14-year-old suspect was already arrested (and subsequently released without charges). There were insinuations that Rabbi Greenbaum was somehow involved in the blaze, an accusation quickly rebuffed by the rabbi and his team, who noted that they called the cops numerous times in recent months about kids scaling the fence and entering the ruined premises.

Another speaker prepared a lengthy report detailing the suspicious nature of the ownership entity behind Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, and the overall lack of transparency. How a “charity” organization run by Greenbaum (Beth Hamedrash Hagadol New York Restorationn, Inc.) allegedly purchased the property for $10, but didn’t raise money for its rehabilitation.

Photo: Save BHH

In the end, CB3 approved the resolution to demolish, but urged the LPC to determine which elements can be saved.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hear the case on July 11.

“$10 says everything is getting demolished,” CB3 member Mitchell Grubler quipped at the conclusion of the vote.

That about sums it up…

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