East Village Synagogue To Be Altered
By Sarah Marloff | Online Only | Nov. 30, 2010
Earlier this month, several New York City preservation groups held a press conference to urge the city to landmark two 170-year-old houses in Manhattan's East Village. Despite the effort put forth by the East Village Community Coalition and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, however, the city granted the buildings' owner permits to dramatically alter the houses. Coincidentally, the two events happened on the same day: Nov. 16.
The Greek Revival row houses, built between 1837 and 1841 for shipping merchants, eventually became tenements for immigrants, and by 1927 Number 328 housed a synagogue. Nearly 50 years later, an artists' collective and burial society known as the Uranaian Phalanstery took over both addresses (326 and 328 East 4th Street), remaining until this past summer, when, faced with tax liens, the society was forced to put the buildings up for sale.
In early August, the two brick houses were purchased by developer Terrence Lowenberg, who then applied for permits to build a two-story addition on the existing structures.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy attempted to contact Lowenberg about possible historic tax credits if he was to restore the buildings, but he never responded, according to Peg Breen, the conservancy's president. (Lowenberg could not be reached for comment.)
Preservation groups soon began asking New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the buildings, providing the commission with additional research on the history behind the two homes. "The first letter was sent literally the Friday after we heard about the change in ownership," says Kurt Cavanaugh, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition.
To the dismay of some preservationists, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to consider the buildings for landmark status.
"What made it worse was that we were never even given a formal vote," says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "The chair of the commission chose to never give it a hearing, even after we unearthed the new information about the history of these buildings." Numbers 326 and 328 retain most of the original windows, ironwork, and other details, he says. "But the owner has been given his permits to destroy historic qualities."
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated many immigrant-related buildings in the East Village in the past two years. However, the two buildings on East 4th Street weren't worthy of designation, according to commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon. "After carefully reviewing both buildings, the commission determined that neither rises to the level of an individual New York City landmark because they not only have suffered the loss and replacement of significant architectural features, but also are in poor physical condition. The Commission has identified better examples of Greek Revival-style row houses, among other buildings in the East Village, as potential individual landmarks and continues to make the neighborhood one of our top priorities."
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