A developer will raze remnants of a five-ravaged synagogue in the Lower East Side after engineers determined that it’s a “public safety risk” for parts of the building to remain, according to city officials.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved plans to demolish the partially intact southern tower at the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue, which was reduced to rubble after a three-alarm blaze ripped through the landmarked building in 2017. City officials had hoped part of the structure could be salvaged and worked into the new mixed-use development planned for the site, but the fire-damaged tower is simply too far gone, according to Sarah Carroll, the chairperson of LPC.
“This was a devastating fire and it’s been very difficult to accept some of the findings that it’s in such bad condition,” said Carroll. “Really [we were] concerned about retaining some even sort of symbolic gesture—keeping some piece of that tower still standing—and I think that we’ve seen today that that is just not feasible.”
Developer Gotham Organization, in partnership with the Chinese American Planning Council, aims to replace the crumbling synagogue with a massive mixed-use development including a 30-story tower on Suffolk Street with 25 percent of the building’s 373 units set aside at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), and a 16-story property on Norfolk Street planned as an Affordable Independent Residences for Seniors with 115 units. All told, 40 percent of both buildings (or approximately 208 units) will be earmarked as below-market-rate housing, according to the project’s scoping documents.
Initially, the development team requested permission to raze the entire dilapidated synagogue, but LPC sought to preserve as much of the former landmarked house of worship as possible. Instead, the commission approved plans to partially dismantle the structure and preserve salvageable artifacts. As engineers assessed the property they discovered crippling structural damage and had no choice but to further demolish the synagogue.
Engineers with the city and on behalf of Gotham surveyed the south tower and concluded that the structure was simply too badly damaged to remain standing. LPC vice chair Frederick Bland notes that although it is a shame to have lost the synagogue in the first place the property’s current configuration presents an “exciting physical design challenge” to create a new building in and around the ruins remains.
“It’s so sad how we got here, but we’re there now,” Bland said. “Let’s rise to the occasion and create a truly interesting piece of architecture that incorporates this ruin.”