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Wall collapses at fire-gutted Lower East Side synagogue: FDNY

The building suffered a 2017 fire and is in the midst of a redevelopment

A wall collapsed at the fire-gutted Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue, killing one worker and injuring another, Monday morning.
Caroline/Curbed NY

A wall collapsed at the site of a fire-gutted Lower East Side synagogue, crushing two workers Monday, months after engineers determined parts of the structure pose a “public safety risk.”

A masonry wall at the synagogue crumbled just before 10 a.m. at 60 Norfolk Street killing one man and seriously injuring another, said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Ajello. The collapse is the latest tragedy to befall the former house of worship; in 2017, a three-alarm fire set by a suspected arsonist tore through the 1850 Gothic Revival-style building. Officials with the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) are investigating the collapse.

“DOB experts in structural engineering and emergency response are on scene conducting an aggressive investigation of this tragedy,” said DOB spokesperson Abigail Kunitz. “Every worker who leaves for the job site in the morning deserves to come home safely at night. We will provide updates as our investigation progresses.”

The site became one of the city’s earliest landmarks in 1967, but was reduced to a rubble-filled ruin after the fire. Developer Gotham Organization is now partnering with the Chinese-American Planning Council to redevelop the site as part of a mixed-use, two-tower complex that will give rise to nearly 500 apartments, offices, and a new synagogue with the remnants of the landmark.

Firefighters discovered two workers trapped under a collapsed wall when they arrived at 10 a.m.
Caroline/Curbed NY

At the time of the collapse, workers were in the process of preserving the synagogue’s historic remains, Gotham confirmed to Curbed. A full vacate order still exists on the property over structural concerns from the fire, but DOB permits had been issued to Titan Industrial SVC Corp. for “emergency stabilization work” to demolish unstable portions of the structure, says Kunitz.

A preliminary DOB investigation determined that there is no imminent danger of further collapse, but an assessment of the site’s structural stability by the department’s Forensic Engineering Unit and the Construction Safety Enforcement Unit are still ongoing, according to Kunitz.

Out of an abundance of caution, officials ordered the contractors to remove masonry bricks from a partially collapsed arch window, located in the building’s tower 36 feet above street level. DOB is coordinating with the contractors at the scene to develop a plan. That work will be performed today using lifts under the supervision of city engineers.

Gotham said it is “deeply saddened” by the accident. “Our prayers go out to the families affected by this terrible tragedy,” Gotham’s statement continued.

Monday’s wall collapse will likely complicate the project’s development. Much of the synagogue was demolished after the fire, but builders were initially able to salvage part of three walls that they had planned to incorporate into the the new synagogue and cultural heritage center, along with artifacts that will be displayed in the new complex’s lobby.

A spokesperson for the development team would not comment on whether the accident is expected to cause project delays.