Developers Looking to Destroy More of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol

Posted on: October 1st, 2018 at 5:00 am by

Talk about beating a dead horse. The half-demolished, destabilized structure formerly known as Beth Hamedrash Hagadol might soon lose more of its carcass.

As presented to Community Board 3 in January of this year, the plan is to incorporate the charred synagogue remains into a larger, two-towered development in conjunction with developer Gotham Organization and the Chinese-American Planning Council. Footprint of the new project – an “intergenerational community anchored by neighborhood retail and community facility tenants” – spans the full block of Broome Street from Norfolk to Suffolk Street, and comprises both mid-rise (10 stories) and high-rise (30 stories) pieces. It’ll occupy the parking lot of the Hong Ning senior living next door (managed by CPC) and the synagogue site.

Now, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, under the auspices of Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, is applying to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to remove “portions” of the fire-scorched structure to create a “new modern style apartment building.” (Presumably more of the structure was deemed unstable.) Hearing for this proposal is slated for tomorrow afternoon.

Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was the first American congregation established by immigrants from the Russian Empire, making it the oldest Russian Orthodox house of worship in the country. The historic Gothic Revival synagogue in which it resided 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.”

Vacant and derelict since 2007, it burned down in a three-alarm inferno on Mother’s Day 2017. While many in the neighborhood still believe the fire was “suspicious,” authorities later arrested a 14-year-old and charged with third-degree arson. A day later, though, the minor was released into parental custody without any charges. His two pals who were with him during the burn job – he allegedly lit a curtain on fire – were considered “witnesses,” according to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

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