LPC Rescinds Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Landmarking, Paving Way for Towering Development
On Mother’s Day in 2017, a teenaged arsonist torched Beth Hamedrash Hagadol. Three years later, the smoldering Norfolk Street site is no longer a city landmark.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission last week voted to rescind the special designation that protected the synagogue for five decades. It was purportedly done so without much discussion from the panel.
Not surprising, though, given the carnage here on Norfolk Street. The three-alarm fire burned hot, and was nearly absolute in its destruction, leaving behind one tower and a mountain of rubble. (It took another two years, and the death of a construction worker onsite, for cleanup to complete.)
The decision of rescission was ultimately a formality that further paves the way for redevelopment of 60 Norfolk Street.
Two months ago, Dattner Architects filed paperwork to construct the two-tower development known as GO Broome, which sits adjacent to the wall of new buildings that is Essex Crossing. The filing came weeks after City Council approved the rezoning of this parcel to accommodate such a large mass of real estate.
Co-developed by Chinese-American Planning Council nonprofit and the Gotham Organization, the project is composed of nearly 520,000 square-feet, spread across 488 apartments, commercial retail, and community facilities. Of the residential tally, 115 residences are affordable housing for seniors. There is also a 4,000 square-foot commercial condo for Beth Hamedrash Hagodol.
Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was the first American congregation established by immigrants from the Russian Empire, and was the oldest Russian Orthodox house of worship in the country. The historic Gothic Revival structure it occupied was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and purchased by the shul in 1885 for $45,000 (about $1.2 million today). In its 1967 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.”
Membership dwindled over the decades, and the shul finally shut in 2007. Current Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum left the property exposed to the elements, holding out for potential redevelopment. To that end, six years later, he petitioned the city to remove the protective status, but retreated.