Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Plan to add condos to historic East Sixth Street synagogue back on

Tomorrow night, CB3's Landmarks Subcommittee will hear proposed plans about a "facade restoration" for the Congregation Mezritch Synagogue at 415 E. Sixth Street.

Synagogue leaders have applied to add one story to the height of the structure, which is now part of the newish East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. (The proposed alteration is from the offices of Preservation Architect Joseph Pell Lombardi.)

There are flyers about the proposed restoration/addition posted nearby.

The proposal notes that the addition will be set back, and not visible to the public.

However, the plans don't get too specific about the interior portions of the building. (You can find a PDF of the plans here.) It appears the basement will contain space for a "community facility," with at least three or four residences taking up the remainder of the building. The plans also show the addition of an elevator.

Back in 2008, there were plans to demolish the Synagogue, which is just east of First Avenue. The plans, which called for a six-story condo, eventually fell through.

In 2010, more news surfaced about the historic building's deteriorating condition. Structure aside, the congregation dwindled to the point of not being able to attract minyan — the minimum of 10 men required by Jewish law — for some services. The hope was to add condos on top of the building to raise the money to upgrade the facilities. (Read The Villager's story on it from 2010 here.)

As the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has noted, "the landmark designation does not cover the interior of the building (few landmark designations cover building interiors, and religious edifices by law can never be interior landmarks). Landmark designation also does not control or regulate how a building is used."

After Wednesday's meeting, the application will be heard at the Landmarks Preservation Commission's public hearing on March 19. No time has been set yet for this. GVSHP has much more background information on all this right here.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I believe, if not mistaken, that this was the first synagogue in the EV built originally as a synagogue, and not converted (ha!) over from a church or other type of building.

bowery boy said...

I recall being at a CB meeting where the folks running this place swore they no longer had any plans to build on top. They promised that was old news. They were so adamant, indignant, and self-righteous about it. Now, it turns out they were lieing that entire time. That's sad when even clergy are blowing smoke. And I bet they wonder why religion is dieing.

Anonymous said...

"That's sad when even clergy are blowing smoke. And I bet they wonder why religion is dieing."

First off, bowery, I wouldn't use the word "clergy" with this place. Not because Jews don't use the word "clergy", but because the people who run this place are not on any sort of payroll as there is no money to begin with - hence the plans to use air-rights and redesigns to generate some. The rabbi here doesn't get paid, and really hasn't gotten paid for the 40+ years he's worked here. Two, the reason religion is "dieing", at least locally, has little to do with one of two synagogues on 6th Street. Almost no goes here due to an aging population moving out and not being replaced with young families with kids moving in. Most Jews have made their way to the UES, UWS, the LES, or the 'burbs, or wherever. The city is expensive and living here, not to mention living here and possibly paying to send your kids to yeshiva is a pricey proposition. So, when you're barely getting a minyan on shabbos and there are no families around with kids your future doesn't look bright. It's pretty much the same story for Community Synagogue one block over, and for synagogues all over the country in small towns and cities where people have moved elsewhere.

I'd like to know when this meeting took place that you attended. As Grieve says here the original plan was to knock the entire building down and rebuild it. And while I'm not defending it, the current plan of building atop and restructuring the interior of the building is not the same as the original plan.

Dave - Everywhere said...

The proposed plan seems like the "least bad" alternative for this building. Sadly, there really is no Jewsh community left for this temple to serve and if this proposal doesn't work out, then the most likely scenario is that someone else buys the property and we're back to the "six storey, luxury condo" plans again. A facade uplift and a partially hidden extra floor is probably the only way this landmark survives.

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken this is synagogue, as well as Community Synagogue, are orthodox. that really is a shrinking segment of whatever local Jewish community that exists in the neighborhood. Perhaps a little outreach would help, but, as with all orthodox theologies and ideologies, they tend to be be orthodox. Which is, of course, not very welcoming to anyone who isn't. They should try offering a reform or even conservative service and they just might attract some members. But, they won't.

rob said...

The question for me with whether the expansion proposal
is a subterfuge to undermine the structure, then get the
DoB to condemn it with no further ado and so fulfill the
original plan of demolition.

The options for the building as I understand them are:
a) the current owners keep the building by constructing
the recessed story or selling the building in which case it
can survive as condos without the recessed addition but
with no synogogue component.
If the congregation has no future, then I'd like to see
it sold outright rather than risk a DoB demolition order as
a result of some shenannigans. There are many synagogue-condo
conversions in the EV. It would be nice if it were an active
synagogue, but where will it get its membership?

Anonymous said...

Sadly for this building, a religious congregation must offer something that is of interest to the community and this Orthodox synagogue just has nothing of relevance. Contrast it to the Conservative congregation on 14th between 1st and 2nd - the Town & Village Temple - that is thriving because they have made true outreach into the community. They have a very active program for people in their 20s & 30s, they welcome gays and lesbians (many who have been married in the temple), and still retain their older members including many of the founders (1947). The Orthodox temple could learn from them, but they don't seem interested in being inclusive and welcoming to the E.V. Jewish community with the result being that they now have to either develop their building or sell it outright and lose it entirely. Sad, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I'm always confused by this idea that an Orthodox synagogue should become more inclusive and that will save it. Orthodox Judaism by nature isn't inclusive due to the tradional Jewish law it follows. The people who go here aren't going to change the services and liturgy to something else - That's not who they are, nor what they're comfortable with. Simply put "they don't wanna". But if you were to revamp the place with all new ways of thinking the old guard would just leave anyway and who'd be there to support it then? Whoever took it over would be saddled with the same financial problems as before. No amount of inclusiveness would save this place anyway: You start up a new synagogue that's more inclusive and you'll start pulling people away from Town & Village and they'll start having problems. There simply aren't enough Jews who live in this area who go to synagogue regularly and would be willing to make donations and become members to keep numerous synagogues afloat. Are there a lot of Jews here? Sure. Do they go to go to synagogue and would be willing to do the above? I highly doubt it. This neighborhood, as we all know, ain't what it used to be...

It's funny because EVGrieve does a lot of stories about people who are "kickin' it old-school" and "keepin it real" and everyone seems to think that's awesome - and I agree, it is awesome, and it's the reason I moved here and always wanted to live here. But when it comes to Orthodox Judaism you get the "Nope, they should change" bit in the comments. Doesn't make sense.

Dan C said...

Remember that these older shuls were all founded by folks who came from the same town or region in Europe. Everyone built their own, so when newer generations were born and mingled into the city, there was less of a need for this kind of insular orthodox place. (That's why the bigger orthodox shuls are all busy and hopping...and formed by neighbors from NYC, not neighbors from the old country.)

I went into this building on a LES Synagogue tour about 10 years ago. Beautiful interior, but my god, there's been other structures condemned for less. The unpaid rabbi and the few congregants left do;t even go to the upstairs sanctuary anymore...it's too dangerous.

I heard that the original plan was to build an entire new building and let the synagogue have 2 floors as a new space. I somehow doubt that's still in the picture.

Anonymous said...

Dan C - Did you actually see the upstairs for yourself? Because as I understand it was never too "dangerous" - it was just filled with someone's stuff. Said stuff has since been removed and the upstairs is being used once again.

Anonymous said...

Also, Dan C, which Orthodox shuls in this neighborhood are still "hopping" in your opinion? I can't think of any, and I am of course not including the LES because that's a different neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Stanton Street is hopping relatively speaking; check out FB and website. Community Synagogue looks to be doing much better since it is tentatively combining with the 16th Street Shul. Both shuls have a mix of hipsters, old timers, and everything else from the neighborhood including mid 1970s people such as myself.

Mezritch is a different story and didn't need to happen this way. The top floor was not in bad shape. Not the least is the question of whether they really could not afford the repairs, or embarked on a strategy to gain sympathy as they purposely wound down stuff.