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

‘Empire Gyro’ Readies 24-Hour Allen Street Eatery for Christmastime Debut

The tradition of 24-hour eateries at the southeast corner of Allen and East Houston continues with Empire Gyro. The new fast food Mediterranean spot, which takes over from the utilitarian Sugar Cafe, has been building out 200 Allen Street since early October. The menu is somewhat predictable, featuring soups, salads, kebabs, and shawarma. Empire Gyro […]

Neighborhood Group Prepares Lawsuit Against City Over Two Bridges Towers

“The City is trying to violate its own law to approve the luxury towers on the Two Bridges waterfront,” announces a flyer from the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors. Mere days after City Council leveled a lawsuit against the City Planning Commission for green-lighting the trio of skyscrapers, more such opposition is in store. The […]

14th Street Residents Shine Light on Health Concerns During L-Train Renovations

Ongoing work on the Canarsie Tunnel repair has created gridlock along East 14th Street. So much so, that neighbors and elected officials are banging the drum about the effects on the surrounding neighborhood. And have been for the better part of the last year. Yesterday morning, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein rallied with area neighbors outside the […]

Iconic ‘Pearl River Mart’ to Run Shop at Museum of Chinese in America

Chinatown classic Pearl River Mart, which was on the brink just a couple years ago, has since rebounded and just joined forces with the Museum of Chinese in America. The collaboration – the MOCA Shop – will debut on February 5, timed to coincide with the Lunar New Year. Founded in SoHo in 1971 by […]

‘Vivi Bubble Tea’ Cafe on Allen Street Shuttered by DOH [Updated]

Vivi Bubble Tea on Allen Street recently had a run-in with the Department of Health. Inspectors visited the four-year-old Chinatown import in mid-October, and dropped the hammer big time. The franchise fell victim to 79 violation points largely due to vermin and lack of sanitization. It was closed for business for several weeks with brown […]