The New York Times has Eldridge Street Synagogue as “gasp-inducing,” and after visiting, we have to agree. The synagogue contains 50-foot vaulted ceilings, an eclectic mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Moorish revival detailing, antique brass chandeliers, original wood paneling and 67 stained glass windows of which 85% are pre-restoration pieces. The focal piece of the space is a stunning new stained glass window measuring 16 feet in diameter designed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans.
Just as interesting as the architecture is the history of the building which dates back to 1887, making it one of the oldest synagogues in US history. It was designed by the architectural firm of Herter Brothers to be a “grand expression of Orthodox Judaism on the Lower East Side.” The architects were given few religious constraints because “Orthodox tradition stipulates only that the Aron ha-Kodesh (Holy Ark) must face toward Jerusalem and there must be separate entrances and seating for men and women.” [both quotes from U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service].
In the 1920s, as the Jewish population began to relocate outside the Lower East Side, a shrinking congregation found itself unable to pay for the upkeep and repairs of the building. Consequentially, over the next 65 years, the building fell into disrepair. Fortunately in 1986, a non-profit called the Eldridge Street Project was formed to fund the private restoration of the building. In 1996, the building was listed as a National Historic Landmark and in 2008, the building officially opened as the Museum at Eldridge Street. There is a small museum in the basement which recounts the history of immigrants around the turn of the century in the Lower East Side.
For more information, check out http://www.eldridgestreet.org/ and for additional details on the history and architecture of the church, here is the building’s application to the National Register of Historic Places.
Eldridge Street Synagogue
12 Eldridge Street
Sun-Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10-3pm
Subway: East Broadway
$12 adults, $10 students/seniors, $8 children 5-17, Mondays Free