9. The Defunct Erste Washawer Synagogue Is Now an Artist’s Studio, 58-60 Rivington Street
Designed by renown architect Emory Roth — a Hungarian immigrant who would become known for his apartment buildings on Central Park West and grand hotels like the Mayflower and Warwick — the Erste Washawer synagogue was built for a Romanian Congregation from the town of Iasi (Jassy) in 1903. When it was complete, it became known as the grandest of the small synagogues.
Congregation Adath Jeshurun of Jassy remained there until 1912, when a group of Polish immigrants purchased the building and renamed it for Warsaw, their city of origin. By the 1970’s, as the Jewish Lower East declined, the congregation abandoned the building. In 1973, an artist by the name of Hale Gurland was on his way to Orchard Street to buy shoes when he saw a crumbling “For Sale” sign. In a 2014 interview with Interview Magazine, he described the experience of discovering the building: “People were going inside the building because the doors were out, junkies were shooting up. I walked in, and the place looked like Dresden after the bombs. Rain was coming through the roof. It looked like they had a service, and everybody left. It was really cool. I forgot about the shoes.”
Today, the building has been repurposed as Hale Gurland’s studio and residency. Gurland made several alterations to the facade including the rearrangement of the rose window’s Magen David frame into the shutter lens of a camera.