Eldridge Street Synagogue, New York, NY
Award Type: Honor Award
On New York’s rapidly-changing Lower East Side, the Eldridge Street Synagogue has been transformed from crumbling to dazzling. Today, the reborn landmark is an evocative link with the generations of immigrants who worshiped here while undergoing the difficult transition from newcomers to Americans.
The Museum at Eldridge Street (located in the Eldridge Street Synagogue) sits in Manhattan's storied Lower East Side, a gateway for generations of immigrants now steadily disappearing because of development. When it first opened in 1887 at the height of Eastern European Jewish immigration, the Synagogue was an island of grandeur amid the chaotic bustle. Yet, the building became a pale reminder of its former self as the congregation moved away and the Synagogue fell into disuse. Now, after a monumental 20-year, $20 million restoration remarkable for its innovative use of both historic elements and new, energy-saving materials, this National Historic Landmark has finally returned to its former splendor and today is both a museum and a functioning synagogue.
The restoration process faced daunting realities – the roof leaked, a stairway had collapsed, stained glass windows were broken, pigeons roosted in the sanctuary and mold covered every interior surface. Using a preservation philosophy attuned to the history and aesthetics of the site, original materials were gently cleaned and decorative finishes painstakingly revealed beneath layers of grime and paint. Restorers were able even to preserve the undulations in the pine floorboards formed by the traditional practice of swaying to and fro while standing for prayer.