Manhattan -- A historic 150 year old East Village synagogue recently advertised for sale, which GVSHP and fellow preservationists and local leaders had pushed to have landmarked, was finally voted a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this morning, with landmark designation taking immediate effect. Tifereth Israel Town & Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street was built in 1866 as the First German Baptist Church; in 1926 it became the Ukrainian Autocephalic Church of St. Volodymyr; and in 1962 it became the Town & Village Synagogue, reflecting the successive waves of immigration and ethnic change which have swept over the East Village. Shortly after New York's landmarks law was adopted in 1965, the building was formally heard and considered for landmark designation, but never received a vote. However, it did remain officially "calendared" by the LPC, or formally under consideration for landmark designation, making it perhaps the longest time any building in New York has remained in "landmarks limbo."
In 2013 the building was advertised for sale, prompting the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and other preservation and East Village groups to wage a campaign to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to vote on landmarking the building. In response, a new public hearing on landmarking the building was held on March 25, 2014, at which GVSHP and many supporters urged the Commission to vote in favor of designation (read GVSHP's testimony here). GVSHP conducted extensive research upon the building's unique architecture and history, and argued for its significance and the merit of its preservation, as well as generating hundreds of letters to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) urging designation. When new LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan was appointed in July, GVSHP immediately reached out to her and urged the new Chair to finally move ahead with a vote on designating the building, which her predecessors would not do.
"It's wonderful that after nearly half a century, this venerable piece of our city and our neighborhood’s history will finally receive the recognition and protection it deserves and which we fought so hard for," said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "With recent plans by the current congregation putting the fate of this historic building in doubt, it's especially important that landmark designation was finally granted today. I am confident that this congregation will continue to be able to grow and thrive with landmark protections for the building, and we recommit our offer to the congregation to assist in pursuing funding for maintaining or updating the building, and to pursue additional spaces in the area should the congregation's needs extend beyond what the building can provide," added Berman.
GVSHP reached out to the leadership of the congregation early in the process to offer assistance with seeking funding sources available for the maintenance, renovation, and alteration of historic structures such as this. GVSHP also offered assistance in finding alternative spaces in the area to use if the historic structure could no longer fully accommodate the congregation, as well as to connect the Town & Village leadership to other synagogues and religious institutions which have successfully dealt with space constraints and landmark designation. It should be noted that landmark designation contains a "hardship provision," which means that if a religious entity such as this cannot fulfill its mission while following the requirements of landmark designation, the law allows it to be relieved of those requirements.
At today's vote, the Commission excluded from the landmark designation a rear structure which had originally been considered as part of the landmark designation. GVSHP and fellow preservation and East Village groups had called for landmark designation of the entire building, including the rear structure. "We are disappointed that the Landmarks Preservation Commission excluded this building from the designation and believe that their doing so was unnecessary. The Commission could have landmarked the entire site and still allowed construction in the rear, but with designation of the entire site they would have ensured that any new construction did not detract from the valuable historic character of this 150 year old religious edifice," said GVSHP's Andrew Berman.
For more information on the history of the Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue building and the effort to preserve it, click here. For more information on GVSHP and its preservation efforts, click here or here.