Landmarks Calendars Site of Former Synagogue for Designation Rescission

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue at the time of designation./Image Credit: LPC

The former landmarked synagogue was home to the country’s oldest Russian Orthodox Jewish congregation. On May 19, 2020, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar a decision to rescind the individual landmark designation of a vacant lot, located at 60 Norfolk Street, Manhattan. The lot was formerly the site of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, which was fully demolished in 2019 after a fire destroyed most of the building.

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue was designated as an individual landmark on February 28, 1967. The synagogue belonged to the Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, the oldest Russian Orthodox congregation in the country. It was considered a landmark by the Greater New York Board of Rabbis and by the Union of Orthodox Congregations of the United States. Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue was significant for hosting services that were attended by orthodox Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Built in 1850, the synagogue building was a Gothic Revival style building that featured characteristics such as a symmetrical facade flanked by square towers with couple pointed arched windows, a main double entrance door with an over-door panel, and a domed roof supported by slender colonnettes.

The building began to deteriorate in the late 1990s after ongoing water penetration through the facade and roof damaged the building’s interior and a storm significantly damaged one of the windows. In 2007, the Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol closed the building because of the structural issues. In May 2017, the building was severely damaged by a fire which destroyed the roof and gutted the building’s interior. The remaining structure of the building was considered hazardous and unstable. Shortly after, the Department of Buildings issued a Vacate Order for the building due to structural concerns.

Current view of 60 Norfolk Street./Image Credit: LPC

In July 2017, the Congregation sought a Certificate of Appropriateness to fully demolish the remains of the building. However, Landmarks only approved a partial demolition to only remove the parts of the structure that posed a hazardous condition. This was because there were concerns from local officials that the building’s remains still maintained some historical significance.  Eventually, Landmarks approved full demolition of the building on June 25, 2019 after deciding that the damage and partial demolition have resulted in a building and site that no longer conveyed significance or integrity as an individual landmark.

A site’s landmark designation can be rescinded because nothing of architectural, historic, or cultural significance remains on it. Landmark designation rescissions are rare and the Commission has only rescinded designation when the landmarked building or structure that was on the site has been destroyed or severely damaged to where it loses its integrity such as when a building has been demolished or burned to the ground.

Landmarks will hold a hearing on the landmark’s rescission on a later date.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019).

One thought on “Landmarks Calendars Site of Former Synagogue for Designation Rescission

  1. I find it interesting that you don’t even mention that someone lost their life here trying to preserve something that should have been torn down years ago. The site was neglected for years and only after the fire, was there a call to save the structure. Where were they for the past five, ten, fifteen years. This poor construction worker did not need to die.

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