Synagogue Congregants Oppose Designation

Congregation Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue located at 334 East 14th Street in Manhattan. Image Credit: LPC.

Congregation Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue located at 334 East 14th Street in Manhattan. Image Credit: LPC.

Before serving as a synagogue, 1869 building was home to German Baptist congregation and a Ukrainian Orthodox church. On March 25, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the proposed individual landmark designation of the Congregation Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue located at 334 East 14th Street in Manhattan. The structure was completed in 1869 to designs by the German-born architect Julius Boekell. The Runbogenstil style structure was originally built as the First German Baptist Church to serve German immigrants who populated the Lower East Side. In 1926, the building was sold, and converted to the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church of St. Voldomyr. The new congregation replaced the crosses on top of the church’s spires with onion domes, which remain today. In 1962, the building was sold to the Town and Village Synagogue by Congregation Tifereth Israel, which currently retains ownership. The church remains substantially intact, but it has undergone some alterations. In addition to the replacement of the crosses, the doors have been replaced and one of the original stained-glass windows has been lost.

Synagogue President Marianna Mott Newirth spoke in opposition to designation. Mott Newirth testified that the congregation was of modest means, but has dreams of improving and enlarging the space so more people could “gather, worship and celebrate together.” Mott Newirth also stated that the congregation has plans to build a preschool and community facility space. Mott Newirth said landmarking would increase the time and expense of renovations and maintenance, money which she said should be used to serve the community. Synagogue member Cynthia Weber also opposed designation, but said that if landmarking went forward, a three-story structure in the back of the building should be excluded. She said the property did not have the space for a large development, nor would one be allowed as of right under its zoning. Executive Director Esther Schwab contested the building’s architectural significance, and said the building’s structural integrity had been compromised by water damage and vibrations from the nearby subway. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan attorney Ross Moskowitz, advisor to the synagogue, asked that Landmarks “hear and respect the true stakeholders of this property.”

Several other people testified in support of designation. Amanda Davis of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation called the building “architecturally and culturally unique.” The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn testified that the “architecturally lively and significant” building had been calendared for potential designation in 1966, but had “languished in preservation limbo” ever since. Marcia Ikonomopoulos of the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum on the Lower East Side testified that landmark designation had proved beneficial for her congregation, bringing in grants and bequests. She also called the Town and Village synagogue “a magnificent building.” Neighborhood resident Kirsten Theodos called the building a “physical representation of the cultural diversity of New York City.”

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney read into the record a joint letter from Council Member Rosie Mendez and State Senator Brad Hoylman, who support the designation, but urge the exclusion of the rear structure from the landmark site.

Tierney closed the hearing for the day, but left the record open for 30 days to allow the submission of additional testimony.

LPC: Congregation Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue, 334 East 14th Street, Manhattan (LP-2457) (March 25, 2014).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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