The Roumanian-American Synagogue on Rivington Collapsed 10 Years Ago; Vacant Lot Still Seeking $20M

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 at 9:25 am by
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It’s easily one of the largest, most photogenic vacant lots on the Lower East Side, forged after the disastrous structural collapse (and subsequent demolition) of the Roumanian-American Congregation Synagogue on January 22, 2006. One boasting years of mature overgrowth, wall art, and trash tumbleweeds. The mid-block wilderness also doubles as an outdoor storage locker of sorts for sidewalk furniture repair man Andres in the warmer months. But the tectonic plates are shifting on Rivington Street, so to speak, as big money continues to flow into the neighborhood.

For years, real estate listings have appeared on both Craigslist and Halstead, hawking the property for around $15 million. Even though the property has technically been on the market for almost ten years, the land-owning synagogue kept denying the availability. But the neighborhood didn’t necessarily buy that argument.

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Photo Credit: Harvey Waldman

Yet, the phantom Roumanian synagogue continued to pursue the sale of 89 Rivington, even increasing the asking price to $20 million. For a while there, Halstead had been the exclusive broker for the property, pitching the 76-foot-wide parcel in no uncertain terms as a “unique” development opportunity. The listing itself has since expired, but below is an excerpt of the broker-babble (which found its way into a recent Loopnet post):

With a C4-4A zoning a developer can have stores on the ground floor and apartments above. The property is right in the vicinity of all modes of transportation. The V and F trains are on Delancey and Essex Street, the B15 is on Allen Street, which goes uptown. It’s also in the vicinity of the Sunshine Theatre and the Essex Street Market. The vacant lot is owned by the First Roumanian American Congregation of New York. They are interested in having their synagogue in the building that is built, and are open to all types of possibilities. It’s very rare that a vacant lot of this size comes to the market in this area, which is why it’s a prime development opportunity for a developer or a Hotel operator.

(Hey, the V no longer exists and the M15 runs on Allen Street)

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Even though Rabbi Shmuel Spiegel promised a rebuild would someday transpire here at 89 Rivington, it seems less and less likely these days. We all know it’s gonna be the next huge Hell Square tower, though. Eventually. From an article in The Villager dated 2006:

[Rabbi Shmuel Spiegel] said the congregation definitely plans to rebuild a synagogue on the spot, which is located between Ludlow and Orchard Sts.

“Like I always say, there will be a synagogue there,” he said.

“It feels terrible,” he said of having to demolish the historic brick building. “I really can’t describe it in words. My father died doing a circumcision in the synagogue. He kept the synagogue alive. A lot of roots — they go deep, deep into the ground.”

Hopefully, the new building will be completed in one and a half to two years, he said. They’ll try to incorporate salvaged elements from the former synagogue, such as the old stained-glass windows and the ark, to the greatest extent possible. Asked what style the new building would be, the rabbi said, “I would like to really try to replica a little.”

As for where the money will come from for the new project, he said, the rebuilding fund they started after the collapse could be doing better.

During the lull in activity, some neighbors have also sporadically taken to transforming the lot into a guerrilla garden of sorts. It’s also the de-facto sales room for two old-school handymen, Andres the furniture repair man and a bike peddler (“Joe’s Bikes”).

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