On August 8, 2008, Village Preservation and the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) submitted a request to the LPC to landmark a little-known but remarkable survivor– Congregation Mezritch Synagogue at 515 East 6th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. The building was the last operating “tenement synagogue” in the East Village. A young, little-known developer named Jared Kushner was planning to tear it down and replace it with condos and a new space for the tiny congregation, which had operated out of the building since 1910.
The story has a (relatively) happy ending – the synagogue and much of its surroundings were landmarked in 2012, and the demolition plan was dropped. But unlike the deservedly beloved and celebrated Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a National Historic Landmark, Mezritch is one of several unique but in many cases overlooked historic synagogues still standing in and around Greenwich Village, the East Village, and the Lower East Side, which in the early 20th century contained what was by many accounts the largest Jewish community in the world. Ahead, we take a look at the history of seven of them and what makes them so unique.
Learn about the history
Earlier this month, GVSHP launched its East Village Preservation effort, releasing its new website “East Village Building Blocks,” which contains historic information and images for every one of the neighborhood’s 2,200 buildings. Of course, any neighborhood spanning five centuries of history and nearly 100 blocks will reveal some surprises when you scratch the surface. But the East Village’s story has some unique and unexpected twists and turns which are brought to light by this new online tool. From the birthplace of the shag haircut to four former homes of Allen Ginsberg to the first federally-subsidized public housing project in America, here are just a few of those you’ll encounter.
All this and more
Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård, of “True Blood” and “Tarzan” fame, may be sinking his teeth into a swanky new East Village pad. The Post reports that he was seen checking out the duplex penthouse at 415 East 6th Street, the Meseritz Synagogue condo conversion. The apartment isn’t publicly on the market, but it’s still vacant and was last listed for $4.39 million.
See the pad
Mezritch Synagogue © LuciaM via Panoramio
At the turn of the century, the Lower East Side/East Village was home to 75 percent of the 2.5 million Ashkenazi Jews that immigrated to the U.S. They quickly established synagogues, many of which were “tenement synagogues,” aptly named because they were built on the narrow lots between tenements and served the mostly-impoverished people who lived in the surrounding, overcrowded buildings. Only one of these tenement synagogues is still in operation–the Congregation Meseritz Synagogue (or Anshei Meseritz) at 515 East 6th Street.
Narrowly saved from the wrecking ball in 2012, Meseritz is now undergoing a total overhaul. Real estate developer East River Partners is adding three luxury apartments, including an 11-foot-tall penthouse, to the top of the structure. Though the plan was initially contested by some neighbors and local community and preservation groups, the developer is undertaking a multimillion-dollar gut renovation of the ground floor, creating a new home out of which the congregation can worship.
More details ahead