In 1987, local residents and urban preservationists joined forces to save the Eldridge Street Synagogue—one of the first erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews. The 20-year, $18.5 million endeavor, called the Eldridge Street Project, culminated in December 2007, transforming the iconic Lower East Side institution into the stunning architectural marvel it is today.
It presently sits on a crowded street between Canal and Division, framed on all sides by multi-story brick buildings that house an eclectic collection of stores. With its Moorish Revival style arches and stained-glass windows, it’s easy to forget that the structure was once in a dire state of disrepair.
In celebration of the synagogue’s 120+ history, we’re hosting an after hours tour on Thursday, February 23rd that will delve deeper into its backstory. In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at some of its most notable architectural and design highlights, from its domed ceilings to its dented wooden floors.
7. Stained Glass Panels
The Eldridge Street Synagogue is home to 67 stained glass panels that are arranged into sets. Walk inside and you can spot rectangular windows on the sides of the sanctuary and keyhole windows across the facade. In addition, roundels are found in the vestibule and arched windows decorate the area around the balcony and in the stairwells.
The windows incorporate similar elements into their designs: Stars of David, intersecting circles and thick cast-glass “jewels.”Although they date back to the late 19th century, they were restored between 1986 and 2007. According to the Museum at Eldridge Street, roughly eighty percent of the original colored shapes have been reused. The pattern for all windows in each set is identical, but the colors in each panel are purposely alternated by the artists.
Stained glass is a common feature seen in many religious institutions because of its aesthetic beauty. However, it also served an utilitarian purpose, as the windows were used to depict religious stories when literacy rates were low. The windows also help to foster a “grand and holy atmosphere,” as light is able to filter in, without allowing visitors to get distracted by what’s taking place on the outside; this is especially necessary for the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which sits on a bustling Lower East Side street.