Volume 81, Number 7| July 14 - 20, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

File photo by Jefferson Siegel

Representatives of Anshe Meseritz, a “tenement shul” at 415 E. Sixth St., above, were adamantly opposed to landmarking the building.

Houses of worship opposed to historic district may sue

By Albert Amateau

A group of East Village houses of worship last week reaffirmed their opposition to the proposal for an East Village Historic District that would encompass about 270 buildings between E. Second and E. Seventh Sts.

Representatives from Anshe Meseritz synagogue, on E. Sixth St.; the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, on E. Second St.; and St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Roman Catholic Church, on E. Seventh St., told members of the Community Board 3 Landmarks Subcommittee on July 7 that they were adamantly opposed to historic district designation.

Indeed, a coalition of neighborhood Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy, known as the Local Faith Communities, held a strategy session prior to the subcommittee meeting to consider taking legal action against future designation.

Their opposition was based partly on their fear that they would not be able to afford the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission’s historic requirements for repairs and alterations to designated church and synagogue buildings.

However, preservation advocates, including Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Historic Districts Council, East Village Community Coalition and the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, welcomed what they said was desperately needed protection against the destruction of neighborhood character by insensitive alterations, demolition and new construction.

But Rabbi Pesach Ackerman, of Anshe Meseritz, 415 E. Sixth St., the last remaining tenement synagogue in the neighborhood, said the shul, established in 1910, was in dire need of repair.

“Once we’re landmarked we’d have to ask permission for anything we do. It’s not right,” he said.

A few years ago, opinion was divided in the congregation when a developer proposed converting the building to residences and maintaining the synagogue within it. That proposal fell through, but Ackerman, Anshe Meseritz rabbi for 42 years, said last week that if a similar deal came along he would support it.

“In any case, we would keep the facade of the shul,” he added.

Clergy and members of the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, 59 E. Second St., the former Mt. Olivet Memorial Church, built in 1891, also vow to fight historic district designation. The Reverend Christopher Calin and the dean of the cathedral, Michael Suvak, had opposed a proposal for individual landmark designation in June 2010. They said they were also against the proposed historic district designation.

The secretary of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Roman Catholic Church, at 101 E. Seventh St., told subcommittee members that St. Stanislaus and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York both opposed designation.

Although Anthony Donovan, a founder of the Local Faith Communities coalition, told religious leaders that he thought legal action against historic district designation was “feasible,” the coalition did not come to a decision.

A spokesperson for Middle Collegiate Church, 50 E. Seventh St. at Second Ave., said on Wednesday that the church has not yet decided on whether to support or oppose historic district designation.

Other religious organizations that attended the strategy session were the Sixth St. Community Synagogue, at 325 E. Sixth St., already an individual landmark; the Catholic Worker, 36 E. First St.; and Town and Village Synagogue, at 334 E. 14th St.

Two of the three subcommittee members at the July 7 meeting voted in favor of both the proposed East Village Historic District and a proposal for an E. 10th St. Historic District between Avenues A and B across from Tompkins Square Park.

One member voted only to recommend the E. 10th St. district.

With reporting by Lesley Sussman

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