On August 8, 2008, GVSHP and the East Village Community Coalition formally requested that the City landmark the historic Congregation Mezritch Synagogue building at 415 East 6th Street in the East Village (you can read the request, and more about the building’s history, here). At the time, plans had been filed to demolish the synagogue and replace it with a six-story residential building built by Jareed Kushner. GVSHP, City Council Member Rosie Mendez, community groups, and synagogue congregants held a press conference a few days later to decry the planned demolition and urge the city to move ahead with landmarking.
The Congregation Mezritch Synagogue was the last operating “tenement synagogue” in the East Village, so named because it filled the same narrow mid-block lots originally configured to hold small rowhouses as the tenements which were found throughout neighborhood. You can read about tenement synagogues in an earlier Off the Grid post.
As our documentation notes, the Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue, or Congregation Mezritch Synagogue, was founded in 1888 and constructed its current temple on East 6th Street in 1910. This Orthodox congregation (anshe Mezritch means people of Mezritch; Mezritch is a town in what is now Ukraine) previously occupied a building on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side. The 1910 conversion of an existing building to Congregation Mezritch Synagogue cost $15,000 and was performed by the German architect and civil engineer Herman Horenburger.
In altering the building on East 6th Street, Horenburger reduced it from 3 ½ to 2 ½ stories, and added the stone-and-brick neoclassical façade that we see today.
Immediately following the protests over the demolition plans, the scheme for a new Kushner-built condo development on the site was dropped. In the years that followed, the continued work and pressure applied by GVSHP and other local preservation groups got the city to finally move ahead with landmarking. In 2012, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, which includes the synagogue building on East 6th Street.
Since landmarking, a plan to reconfigure the interior of the building (landmark designation can not apply to the interiors of religious buildings) has slowly been moving ahead. The leadership of the congregation claims that financial problems prevent it from maintaining the entire building as a synagogue (though some congregants dispute this claim, saying that the leadership has not pursued other sources of support), and has sought to partner with a developer to remain in a small part of the building while finding some income-producing use of the remainder. The current plan would create a ground floor space for the congregation while converting upper floors to residential units, maintaining the current appearance of the building. In addition, a small rooftop addition — not visible from the street within the district — was approved by the LPC after requiring some modifications as urged by GVSHP and others, but is facing some hurdles from the city’s Department of Buildings.
You can read more about the building in the LPC’s East Village/Lower East Side Historic District designation report, and learn more about GVSHP’s continuing efforts to preserve the architecture of the East Village here.