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Eldridge Street Synagogue

This synagogue, constructed in 1887, was one of the first of its kind built by Eastern European Jews in the United States and underwent a major restoration in the 2000s.

Location: 12 Eldridge Street, New York, NY  |  Google Maps
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
People: Roberta Brandes Gratz
Organizations: Eldridge Street Project, Museum at Eldridge Street
Above: Eldridge Street Synagogue, c. 1939; Courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives

The Eldridge Street Synagogue was built in 1887 by the architecture firm Herter Brothers. The building is an interesting example of Gothic, Romanesque, and Moorish styles built with a combination of brick, terra cotta, and stone.1 At the time of its construction, the Lower East Side had a significant Eastern European Jewish immigrant population.2 Within the first decade of its existence, the synagogue flourished. This success, however, did not last. Soon, the Lower East Side Jewish population began to move to other neighborhoods.3 As the Jewish population deteriorated, so did the synagogue. The lack of a thriving congregation forced the synagogue to shut its doors to the main sanctuary in the 1950s.4 The synagogue’s doors remained shut until 1975, when a historian reopened them.5 After being designated a historic landmark in 1980, Eldridge Street Synagogue remained in a state of decay until 1986, when the Eldridge Street Project started a multi-million dollar, twenty year initiative to restore the building. Eldridge Street Synagogue was found to be both a culturally and architecturally significant location in the process of historic designation. The designation report notes that this synagogue is the first great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the United States, located in the neighborhood through which more Jewish immigrants came to American than any other.6

The Eldridge Street Synagogue was designated a New York City Landmark in 1980. In 1996, the synagogue was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, the Eldridge Street Synagogue has dual functions. The building functions as the Museum at Eldridge Street and as a place of worship for Orthodox Jews. After years of decline, the Eldridge Street Project started an initiative to restore the synagogue in 1986. The restoration was completed in 2007.7

1980: The Eldridge Street Synagogue is designated a New York City Landmark

1986: The Eldridge Street Project is formed

1996: The Eldridge Street Synagogue is designated a National Historic Landmark

2007: The Eldridge Street Synagogue’s restoration is completed

By 1986, the Eldridge Street Synagogue and its state of deterioration had become relatively well known. While the building had been a New York City Landmark for half a decade, no significant effort had been made to restore the synagogue to its prior glory. To repair and restore the derelict building, preservationist and author Roberta Brandes Gratz formed the Eldridge Street Project.8 Immediately steps were taken toward the restoration of the building.

Because there was relatively no congregation by the 1980s, the Eldridge Street Project had to rely on fundraising from outside sources. As a result, progress was slow, and the restoration was completed in phases as money came in.9 It proved to be somewhat of a grassroots movement. Calls were made to the public to "Help Make Eldridge Street Synagogue Shine."10 The support of the public through financial and other means helped the process but could not mend the building alone. To complete the restoration the project sought and received grants and donations from "every level of government, numerous private foundations, the National Trust, and more than 18,000 individual donors.”11

The scale of the project and the $18.5 million needed to restore the synagogue shaped Eldridge Street into a project that spanned 20 years.12 Although it was a lengthy process, it proved to be a very successful one. In 2007, the main sanctuary opened once again and was restored to its original beauty. The synagogue now houses the Museum at Eldridge Street, which offers tours of the building, walking tours of the neighborhood, concerts, festivals, readings, and other special events that explore New York City's Jewish history, architecture, and culture.13

  1. “National Historic Landmark Nomination – Eldridge Street Synagogue,” pages 4-5. 8 February 2016.
  2. 
Christopher Gray, “A Prayer-Filled Time Capsule From The 1880’s,” The New York Times, 19 May 1996.
  3. “National Historic Landmark Nomination – Eldridge Street Synagogue,” pages 24-25. 8 February 2016.
  4. “A Landmark Restoration,” Museum at Eldridge Street Article retrieved 14 August 2009.
  5. 
Samuel D. Gruber, “The Choices We Make: Eldridge Street Synagogue and Historic Preservation,” Museum at Eldridge Street, Academic Angles.
  6. “National Historic Landmark Nomination – Eldridge Street Synagogue,” page 11. 8 February 2016.
  7. “A Landmark Restoration,” Museum at Eldridge Street. Accessed 14 August 2009.
  8. 
Diane Cole, “Joy on Eldridge Street,” Preservation, March/April 2008.
  9. 
Nina Reyes, “A Restoration for Prayer and Posterity,” The New York Times, 13 February 1994.
  10. 
”Just Bring Elbow Grease; The Rags Are Supplied,” The New York Times, 4 April 1991.
  11. 
Diane Cole, “Joy on Eldridge Street,” Preservation, March/April 2008.
  12. “A Landmark Restoration,” Museum at Eldridge Street. Article retrieved 14 August 2009.
  13. Ibid.