Sell or Save: Dual Fates of 75 Essex and Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Overshadowed by SPURA Development

Posted on: February 14th, 2014 at 6:01 am by
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Get on that steed and warn the locals; the carpetbaggers are coming. With the Essex Crossing SPURA project looming in the distance, speculation abounds. How much will Lower East Side property values increase? Will longtime residents be priced out? Who will benefit most? Will the neighborhood character disappear? These are but a taste of questions the impending development is raising.

Also of significance is the fate of some iconic structures that preservationists are desperately trying to landmark before any ground is broken. The race is most definitely on.

The Wall Street Journal shines a light today on Beth Hamidrash Hagadol at 60 Norfolk Street. The city-landmarked synagogue is completely dilapidated and in dire need of some TLC. Back in 2012, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum tried to pull a fast one by applying to revoke the protective status so that a developer could come in and do some damage. Ultimately, the concerns of the community won out, and Greenbaum had a “change of heart.”

According to a recent analysis funded by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the interior—including painted murals and intricate detailing—is beyond saving. But the outside, with its two soaring towers, elegant steps and arched windows, is “almost surprisingly” stable, said Ann-Isabel Friedman, director of the sacred-sites program at the Landmarks Conservancy.

City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, said she is committed to saving the building. One prospect: transferring the synagogue’s air rights to a new development, possibly for affordable housing.

“That that would be a win-win situation,” she said. But “we’re open to all possibilities.”

That is, as long as the “dignity” of the space is preserved, said Rabbi Greenbaum. “No dance clubs.”

Even more interesting is that the Essex Crossing is willing to rehab the landmark for a potential barter of its air rights. That’s what the Journal hears, anyway.

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Meanwhile, the freestanding Eastern Dispensary building at 75 Essex Street was also mentioned, but in the context of how neighbors are scrambling to save it. There’s currently a grassroots push to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission that this building is worth saving. The landmarks subcommittee of Community Board 3 voted to approve such designation, but still needs ratification from the full board.

The road to save 75 Essex might be more difficult than previously thought. Owner Sholom Eisner had mentioned in a previous interview that he was totally for landmark protection of his building. However, this article quotes Eisner as having flipped his position:

Sholom Eisner, owner of 75 Essex Street, one of the buildings under preservation-commission review, said he opposes its landmarking. “After so many years when the Lower East Side was worthless, it’s finally coming that people can make something on their losses.”

Strap in; it’s gonna get dicey.

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SPURA outlined, Photo: Wall Street Journal

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