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Thread: Demolition of 6th Street Synagogue

  1. #1

    Default Demolition of 6th Street Synagogue

    I don't even get angry anymore. I just feel incredibly disappointed in my fellow Americans / humans/ New Yorkers.
    Proposed New East Village Synagogue Looks Suspiciously Like Apartment Building


    Monday, August 4, 2008, by EV Grieve
    The board of directors at Adas Le Israel Anshei Meseritz at 415 East Sixth St. (at First Ave.) voted last month to okay the demolition of the synagogue and replace it with a new one—one that, a few extras aside, looks suspiciously like an apartment building. The plan calls for a six-story residential building that would also contain a synagogue on the first two floors. The deal was struck with the Kushner Companies. But, per The Villager, "[One] prominent member of the dwindling congregation has questions about the transparency of the deal with the developer, and his lawyer has asked the state attorney general... to look into the matter." Hmmm. By the way, several members of the synagogue Anshe Meseritz were among the locals who objected to nearby fancy drink emporium Death & Co.'s name and appearance. —EV Grieve
    · Rebuild Plan for Shul Fuels Debate in Congregation [The Villager]

  2. #2

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    August 14, 2008, 4:49 pm

    Fate of Lower East Side Shul Stirs Emotions

    By Sewell Chan


    The Anshe Meseritz synagogue, at 415 East Sixth Street. (Photo: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)

    This much can be agreed on: An Orthodox congregation established by Eastern European Jews in 1888 occupies a lovely but crumbling neo-Classical building with a two-story Victorian Gothic interior at 415 East Sixth Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, on the Lower East Side — a neighborhood where real estate prices have been soaring, placing pressure on owners of old buildings to sell their property to developers for retail and commercial uses.

    Everything else — including even the question of how to correctly render the name of the synagogue — is contentious in a bitter dispute that has erupted in recent weeks over the fate of the building.

    This afternoon, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Lower East Side Conservancy and several other nonprofit groups held a news conference outside the synagogue, to draw attention to a plan by the synagogue’s board to enter a partnership with a developer, which would demolish the structure and replace it with a mixed-use building that would contain apartments, as well as a new synagogue. In a letter [pdf] to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the society has called for the synagogue to be designated a landmark, which would prevent it from being demolished.

    The congregation has filed demolition plans with the city’s Department of Buildings, but insists that it wants to preserve the character of the congregation and that the current structure is in desperate disrepair. The demolition plans were reported by The Villager, a weekly newspaper, late last month. The synagogue’s board voted on July 7 to approve a deal with the Kushner Companies, which would build a new six-story building on the site, with a synagogue on the first two floors and 10 apartments on the top four stories.

    It is not quite clear when the building at 415 East Sixth Street was constructed, but two articles in The Times from November 1903 refer to the building as a “four-story dwelling,” and a January 1911 article said the building had been the home of “wholesale confectioners.”

    In any event, the Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch, or Congregation Mezritch, which was founded in 1888, drastically renovated the building and began using it as a synagogue in 1910. The society said in a statement:
    The handsome neo-Classical building (which has an even more impressive interior) was one of the Lower East Side’s many “tenement synagogues,” so named because they filled narrow lots sandwiched between tenements and served the poor immigrants who populated the surrounding buildings. While a few such tenement synagogue buildings remain in the East Village, including the former Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe Ungarn Synagogue at 242 East Seventh Street, which was recently landmarked by the city, Congregation Mezritch Synagogue appears to be the sole remaining operating tenement synagogue in the East Village, and thus is an important link to what was once perhaps the most significant Jewish community in America.
    Andrew Berman, executive director of the historic preservation society, said that “buildings like this — at once humble and grand — really speak to the profound aspirations of the generations of immigrants who came through the Lower East Side, and the impact they had and continue to have upon our city and country.”

    In a statement, Shelley Ackerman, a member of the congregation, whose father, Pesach Ackerman, has been the rabbi there for more than 40 years, defended the board’s plans. She said:
    Our synagogue is not and never has been for sale. The pending proposal (if in fact it moves forward) would help to preserve Anshe Meseritz and provide a much more comfortable, welcoming, and accessible space for our beloved congregants. We are acting along these lines to guarantee the securing and survival of this synagogue.
    Those who instigate these activities are fueled by a romantic notion of preserving an old structure, one in desperate need of renovation. And without that renovation is likely to fall. Some are motivated by ignorance, others by greed.
    Dozens of other beautiful similar (landmark-worthy) synagogues in much better or worse shape than this one on the Lower East Side have been sold and/or destroyed in the last 20 years. These sales were motivated by the greed of a few parties who benefited. In almost every case, the synagogue in question did not. This case is completely different. There is no sale pending, only air rights to build apartments that will provide needed income to sustain the synagogue and congregation going forward.
    In a phone interview, Ms. Ackerman said the synagogue was in an advanced state of disrepair. The exterior steps are so steep as to be unusable during inclement weather, she said. Parts of the interior are crumbling. There are inadequate bathrooms, poor climate control and no kitchen, she added.

    The hubbub has become personal — and divided the 40 or so members of the congregation.

    “Anyone who is familiar with Rabbi Ackerman’s role in the synagogue for the last 40 years knows that despite no wages, he has been present seven days a week and has done everything within his power to make sure that the synagogue survives,” his daughter said in the statement. “He is devoted to the preservation of his temple and would never do anything to endanger the future of the synagogue.”

    Several former or current members of the congregation have weighed in on the side of the preservationists, including Joel Kaplan, executive director of United Jewish Council of the East Side, and William E. Rapfogel, chief executive of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

    Freda Fried, whose father was active in the synagogue for decades and whose mother was on its board, said the board’s vote in July was held on a Monday morning after the July 4 holiday weekend. “It provided little information about the sale in its mailing, so members could do any due diligence or even consider it important to give a proxy to anyone else,” she said. “If there was a real process and search for a development partner, little or no information was provided about any other choices.”

    Gerard Wolfe, a retired art historian credited with “rediscovery” of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, called the Mezeritz synagogue “a jewel,” and added, in a statement, “Its demolition would be an irretrievable, unforgivable loss.”

    Andrew S. Dolkart, a professor of historic preservation at Columbia who is not involved in the dispute, said the East Sixth Street building was an outstanding example of vernacular architecture and reflected the neo-Classical influence of the 1897 synagogue built by Congregation Shearith Israel, also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

    “It wasn’t designed by a sophisticated architect,” Professor Dolkart said.

    “It wasn’t a pioneering building. It was an architect who was looking at what sophisticated designers were doing and then adapting it in an inexpensive and not so sophisticated manner, to create a kind of folk classicism, almost.”

    In a phone interview, Professor Dolkart said he favored preserving the Lower East Side structure, because cities should preserve “architecture that not only reflects the lives and history of the rich, but also the incredibly history of common people in New York.”

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/20...tirs-emotions/

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

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    Another keeper.

    But aren't the Landmarks folks the cavalry that always arrives too late?

  4. #4

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    Volume 78 / Number 12, August 20 - 26, 2008
    West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


    Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
    Les Sussman, right, told Councilmember Rosie Mendez, left, that if the Anshei Meseritz synagogue collapsed tomorrow, she’d be responsible. Like Mendez, Elissa Sampson, center, volunteer docent at the Lower East Side Conservancy, also advocated for saving the historic shul.

    The developers have detached, but shul debate keeps on going

    By Albert Amateau

    Everything is in dispute regarding the East Village synagogue whose board of directors last month voted to authorize a developer to demolish the crumbling 1910 structure and replace it with a six-story apartment building with a new synagogue on the first two floors.

    There are even three opinions on how to render the name of Edath Lei’Israel Anshei Meseritz — or Meserich, or Meseritch — at 415 E. Sixth St.

    A rally on Thurs., Aug 14, of preservationists and neighbors seeking to save the building turned into a lively free-for-all argument over who constitutes the real congregation. But two hours before the rally, Howard J. Rubenstein, the public relations guru, representing the designated developer, issued an e-mail statement: “As of now Kushner Companies is no longer affiliated with this project. They are assessing all options.”

    Preservation advocates, however, still fear the synagogue could be demolished at any time. They pointed out that a contractor had applied to the Department of Buildings on June 18 for a full demolition permit.

    Although the permit has not been approved, advocates say it justifies their anxiety about the fate of the synagogue.

    Joel Kaplan, executive director of the United Jewish Council of the Lower East Side and a co-sponsor of the Aug. 14 rally, said in a phone interview later, “The ‘as of now’ [in the statement] means they could jump in later.

    We’re still going to be very vigilant.”

    Kaplan told the rally, “We are here to save Anshei Meseritz from the wrecker’s ball.”

    Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and Katherine Spaulding, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition, told the rally that they submitted a request on Aug. 8 to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to extend landmark designation protection to the shul.

    City Councilmember Rosie Mendez recalled her stand — ultimately successful — to stop the Catholic Archdiocese of New York from demolishing St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B. She pledged to stand by the effort to save Anshei Meseritz, “not just because it’s a historic building,” she said, “but also because it’s a monument to the diversity of the neighborhood.”

    Preservation advocates, at the least, want any redevelopment plan to keep the existing building and build a residential addition on top of it.
    On the morning of July 7, the synagogue board of directors met in the basement of 415 E. Sixth St. (the main sanctuary is too dilapidated to accommodate congregants) and heard the Kushner Companies representative explain the offer to pay the congregation $725,000 and replace the shul with a six-story building with 10 apartments on the top four floors and a new synagogue on the first two floors. Brian Burstin, attorney for the shul’s board of directors, told The Villager at the time that the congregation would own the land and the first two floors while the developer would retain residual ownership of the residential floors.

    Seven members of the board voted to accept the deal while two abstained and one did not return a ballot.

    Pesach Ackerman, 79, the synagogue’s rabbi for 40 years — unsalaried except for an annual Yom Kippur appeal — and a member of the board that approved the deal, hailed it at the time as the best chance to keep a synagogue on the site. After the Kushner announcement last week,

    Ackerman said he thought the developer had “put the deal on hold.”

    But Burstin said on Aug. 15 that the developer pulled out of the deal because disagreements about timing of the project arose about two weeks after the July 7 vote. He acknowledged that the preservation issue might have helped push the deal off the table.

    “I’m disappointed at Rosie Mendez’s position,” said Burstin. “I spoke to her a few weeks ago and there was no problem. She could have called me and said that she had reconsidered the issue.”

    Regarding the demolition permit, preservation advocates noted that the application had been made more than two weeks before the board of directors had voted to accept the Kushner proposal.

    “Some chutzpah!” Kaplan said.

    One neighbor at the Aug. 14 rally was skeptical about preservation efforts.

    “This building is going to collapse,” said Les Sussman, who lives three blocks from the shul and has worshiped there virtually every day for 10 years. “It would take a million dollars to preserve — who’s going to pay for it?” he asked.

    “We’ve raised several million dollars to save other synagogues on the Lower East Side,” Kaplan retorted.

    Sussman also said that nobody at the rally ever worshipped at the shul. But at least two men among about 80 demonstrators said they appeared at morning services. One of them said that although the building is
    dilapidated, it is not in danger of collapse.

    “My family has been involved here since before I was born,” said Frieda Rapfogel Fried. “My father was president of the congregation and led the effort to save it in 1960.”

    Fried, who attended the July 7 board meeting but was not eligible to vote, is the sister of William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Rapfogel, husband of Judy Rapfogel — who is chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — has charged that the synagogue’s board of directors has denied synagogue membership to people who regularly worship at the shul. William Rapfogel, who also has questions about the eligibility of board of directors members, has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to look into the issue. The A.G.’s office must approve the disposition of property that belongs to nonprofit charities and religious agencies.

    The synagogue was organized in 1888 by immigrants from the town of Meseritz in Poland.

    “There was a maggid of Meseritz, an itinerant preacher who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism in the late 18th century,” said Elissa Sampson (Esther Malka), a Lower East Side history maven whose husband is a regular worshiper at Anshei Meseritz. “People were very proud to be from the same town as the maggid,” Sampson said.

    In 1910, the congregation acquired the three-story tenement and hired Herman Horenburger, an architect and civil engineer, to convert the building into a two-story synagogue with a raised basement and a limestone-and-brick facade in the neoclassical style.

    According to the preservationists’ letter to the L.P.C., the synagogue’s construction cost was $15,000 in 1910.

    © 2008 Community Media, LLC

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