In the heart of what is now Chinatown on the Lower East Side in Manhattan lives the Eldridge Street Synagogue. A very important Jewish Synagogue built in the late 1800s, it was the first synagogue to be built by the Eastern European Jews emigrating from Russia, Romania and Poland. The synagogue flourished for its first 50 years and was revered for its gorgeous vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. But the membership began to dwindle following the great depression and was abandoned in the 1950s. Harsh city life ate away at the building, it became home to flocks of pigeons and other critters. Leaks developed and the stairs became unstable, the remaining members retreated to the basement where they remained for almost half a century.
The rescue effort of the Eldridge Street Synagogue began in the late 70’s when volunteers and the Friends of the Eldridge Street Synagogue initiated efforts that led to an $18.5 million dollar repair campaign. This campaign included repointing work of the facade using Ecologic™ Mortar from LimeWorks.us. Additional repairs to the ceiling, wallpaper, paint and almost every aspect of the central room was restored returning it to its original glory. The final element was set during the fall of 2010, the stained-glass window commissioned by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans is the only 21st century element inside the historic space.
More details of the Eldridge Street Synagogue restoration can be found in the following issue of Traditional Building.