Demolition Approved for Surviving Tower of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Deemed Unsafe
There is nothing left to save of the burned-out Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street. The city determined this week that the remaining structure, further destabilized by sitting exposed for two years after the fire, is not fit for restoration.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans to demolish the surviving south tower, which city officials had hoped to incorporate into the new two-towered development planned for the site.
City engineers subsequently surveyed the wreckage and concluded that the structure was simply too badly damaged to remain standing, according to a report in Curbed. And that it’s now a “public safety risk.” LPC vice chair Frederick Bland told the publication that, although it is a shame to have lost the synagogue, the charred carcass presents an “exciting physical design challenge” for the developers.
That challenge is part of a new project – 60 Norfolk Street – that will take up a whole block. Co-developed by the Gotham Organization and the Chinese American Planning Council, the massive building is comprised of two towers. The first is a 16-story mid-rise (up from ten in the original plan) with 115 affordable apartments for seniors and a 4,000 square-foot commercial condo for Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, both as sanctuary and a Jewish cultural heritage center that can be converted to office space in future. The second contiguous building is a 30-story high-rise with 25% affordable units and a portion of space dedicated to the new flagship headquarters the Council (owner of the Hong Ning residence next door). It’s built on the parking lot owned by the organization.
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). In its landmark designation, the LPC 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.”
Now it’s rubble.