By Maria Rocha-Buschel
After being calendared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the last 50 years, the wait at Town & Village Synagogue is finally over. The East 14th Street building was officially landmarked last Tuesday, and T&V president Marianna Mott Newirth said that the community is happy with the commission’s compromise in their decision.
The need for compromise came from the fact that the synagogue is actually made up of two different structures — the original façade and the back part of the building that was added later — and the synagogue’s community was opposed to landmarking the entire building because of the difficulties involved with getting approval from the LPC for renovations. As a result, the landmark status applies only to the façade of the building.
“(The commission) is mainly concerned about what is visible so clearly back building isn’t part of that,” she said. “They agreed that the back was built much later and has nothing to do with the original structure.”
Many members of the synagogue were wary of landmarking because of how it would affect necessary renovations for the building. Since the back part of the building wasn’t landmarked and the same restrictions don’t apply, work that needs to be done there won’t be a problem, but Newirth noted that there won’t be much change in their process anyway: it’s been calendared for so long that it’s almost like the property’s been landmarked the whole time anyway.
“Our original argument against landmarking was that it would delay steps on going forward and that happened, so we have to pay extra now,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. It just means going forward we have to put more thought into timeline and factor in the extra time to get LPC approval.”
There was also concern throughout the community in the last year that Town & Village would be split up and gone from the neighborhood because the synagogue had briefly listed the building for sale. Newirth said that the congregation is definitely planning on staying put and that administrators had just been looking for different ways to tackle the renovations that are needed.
“We were exploring options last year and talking to real estate developers for solutions,” she said. “We gave it a go and knew it was risky to some degree. What they thought as being possible wasn’t satisfactory on our part so we decided that the best option is to stay home and take care of what we have.”
So far, the synagogue has already taken care of a number of the renovations that had been planned, including shoring up the foundation, fixing the floor in the basement and restoring the wood moldings on the stain glass windows which had been badly damaged by water penetration. Newirth said that there aren’t any other immediate plans for more renovations, but administrators have been mulling some changes and improvements to the inside of the building.
“We’d like to have better classrooms than what we currently have, modular classrooms for more programming at night, and there are more and more things people want us to do,” she said. “None of that has anything to do with the LPC but it has everything to do with the community.”
The only change that the synagogue is considering that would involve the LPC is the possible installation of an elevator.
“We looked at what it would take for an elevator in the back and it would be extremely impractical,” she said. “The LPC has made provisions in the past for handicap access. We want to honor the integrity of the facade but also serve our elderly and disable members.”
She added that this idea is more long-term in the next 10 to 15 years, rather than an immediate need and she emphasized that regardless of the changes, the community will remain and is, in fact, growing.
“We are one of the few conservative synagogues in our area. It isn’t bursting at the seams yet but we’re getting there. We’re filling a need in the community,” she said. “What makes the difference is that we have a functional building for our 400 families. That’s what’s important.”