Before Beth Hamedrash Hagadol was Destroyed by Fire [PHOTOS]

Posted on: May 16th, 2017 at 5:07 am by and
Sanctuary of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in ruins, Photo: Landmarks Conservancy

Sanctuary of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in ruins, Photo: Landmarks Conservancy

One of the oldest synagogue buildings on the Lower East Side is on death’s door. Sunday night at around 7pm, a 3-alarm fire broke out in the vacant Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue on Norfolk Street. The blaze hollowed out the structure, leaving naught but a charred facade. It’s totally destroyed.

So, we thought it appropriate to revisit an old appreciation post about the landmark from three years ago (February 2014).

Photo: Save BHH

“SAVE the FIRST Eastern European [Russian] Synagogue in the Americas,” reads the inactive Facebook page dedicated to Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.

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). 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.”

This historic, religious edifice has been making headlines for some time now, mostly with regard to its preservation. The upkeep 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.

Assessing the damage, Photo: Landmarks Conservancy

Assessing the damage, Photo: Landmarks Conservancy

Greenbaum had a change of heart in March of last year [2013], as alluded to in a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing the fate of Beth Hamedrash in the shadow of SPURA development.  Right now, only a handful of insiders actually know whether or not that petition to demolish will be back on the table.

For now, we thought it prudent to show you what stands behind those rotting wooden doors of 60 Norfolk Street; to entice you to help. The Lower East Side’s history is literally being demolished. We still have a chance here. Let’s take it.

These photographs of the synagogue interior were shot by the Landmarks Conservancy in July 2013, and provided exclusively to Bowery Boogie. Let them resonate. As a community, we can figure out a way to help support and fund the restoration of this sacred site.

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