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EPISODE 304: The Eldridge Street Synagogue is one of the most beautifully restored places in the United States, a testament to the value of preserving history when it seems all is lost to ruin.
Today the Museum at Eldridge Street maintains the synagogue, built in 1887 as one of the first houses of worship in the country for Eastern European orthodox Jews. The Moorish revival synagogue, adorned in symbolic decoration and sumptuous stained glass, reflected the Gilded Age opulence of the day while keeping true to the spirit of the Jewish faith.
But by the 1950s, most of the Lower East Side's Jewish population had left for other districts, and the remaining congregation sealed off its beautiful sanctuary. For decades, it was hidden from all eyes, the ruinous space left to the ravages of deterioration. "Pigeons roosted in the balcony, benches were covered with dust, and stained glass windows had warped with time."
However, thanks to a handful of determined preservationists, this capsule of Jewish American life in the late 19th century has not only been restored, but even elevated to a new height. The Museum at Eldridge Street is not only a celebration of Jewish American culture, but a breathtaking tribute to the power of preservation.
PLUS: We discuss the birth of Jewish New York and how the city's growth directly changed the way Jewish Americans worshiped in the 19th century. Did you know that evidence of New York's very first Jewish congregation sits just a couple blocks from the foot of Eldridge Street?
And support the Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast on Patreon to receive our NEW after-show conversation called THE TAKEOUT. In this week’s episode, Greg explores the history of another Lower East Side synagogue – one that suffered a less glorious fate – while Tom shares an additional scene from our interview at the synagogue.