Preservation Issues

LPC Rejects Demolition Plan at Fire-Ravaged Synagogue

The Conservancy applauds the Landmarks Commission for its decision to prevent the full demolition of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue on the Lower East Side. The agency was faced with a difficult choice following a fire last May, which decimated the 1850 landmark’s interior and destroyed large portions of the brick exterior. At a July 11 hearing, the owners applied for a permit to demolish all that remains. Their own engineer found that some sections of the brick façade could likely be salvaged, a position which LPC’s engineering report confirmed. The owners wanted to demolish based on a contention that even if some of the brick survived, it would no longer have integrity as a landmark.

Proposal for Demolition Photos

The Conservancy’s testimony recognized the dire conditions but requested that any viable historic fabric should not be destroyed, and should instead be incorporated into a new structure, to honor the synagogue’s heritage. Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was designated in 1967 for its “austere simplicity” and cultural history. In the years before the fire, the congregation had dwindled and the synagogue had closed. At one point, the rabbi who owns the property filed an application for demolition based on hardship. The Conservancy worked with the rabbi and local supporters to find a good outcome for the building, which had become neglected and significantly deteriorated. We funded a conditions report which established that the structure could be restored. We welcomed the dialogue between the rabbi and a nearby non-profit to explore ways to utilize development rights, support the building, and create a new space for the congregation. Unfortunately, the fire halted those plans.

While the Commission does not require a building so deeply fire-damaged to be replicated, the Commissioners unanimously rejected the owner’s request. Instead they called for a careful, supervised demolition of those sections which the engineers agreed could not be salvaged, and asked the applicants to return to present a new plan to address the remnants. We will provide updates as those steps get underway.