Letters to the editor, May 8

Landmarking won’t help T&V Synagogue

The following is an open letter given as testimony regarding the possible landmarking of the Town & Village Synagogue. (It has been edited for length.)

Dear Commissioners and Landmarks Preservation Staff:

As a member of the Town & Village Synagogue and as a longtime resident of the community in which the Synagogue is located, I strongly oppose landmark designation of our building.

I have been a member of the synagogue for the past 21 years and a resident of this community since 1980. The T&V Synagogue has been an important part of my life, and the life of my wife and family. Our children attended its innovative Hebrew School for many years and we as a family have attended services at T&V regularly for more than two decades. It is a spiritual home and a community home for all of us. We are not a wealthy congregation but a very engaged, active community.

Throughout the period in which we have been members of the T&V community, our building has been a problem without solution. Our physical space has been a great challenge to us and has placed great limitations on the number and kinds of activities and programs that we can have at any one time. Even without the threat of landmarking, making our building safe, accessible and adaptable to our needs has proved to be beyond our means. Moreover, the space, laid out almost 150 years ago, poses tremendous safety risks to our congregation. During regular Saturday services, our sanctuary usually has approximately 125 people in attendance, many of them elderly and dependent on canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Despite years of efforts to solve the emergency egress problems that are posed by the dangerous stairways and limited exits, our congregation has not been able to come up with a viable plan to rectify this dangerous situation. This situation is even more dire on the high holidays, when the sanctuary is jammed with more than 400 people. I have served on several committees over the years tasked with finding a solution to these dire problems.

Despite our best efforts and consultations with several professionals, we have been unable to come up with a practical and affordable solution to making this antiquated building safe.  In addition, the lack of an elevator makes access to the sanctuary difficult or impossible for people with disabilities, which is only partially rectified by the presence of a chair lift on one of the stairwells, which when working, makes entry and egress for both the disabled and those who otherwise use that stairway slow and difficult.

We also take issue with the alleged basis for landmarking our building. We believe that our building has minimal architectural value, and the historical value of it having been a house of worship for many generations is simply misplaced. The congregations that occupied our building before us left for more suitable locations, and we as a congregation should be free to do so also. In fact, it is not this undistinguished building that is of historical value to the community, but the vital continuation of the traditions of worship and community service that can best be served by allowing our congregation to maximize the benefits of a new or radically redesigned building.

We are lucky to be serving new constituencies as our community grows and changes, but the financial constraints of a landmarking designation for our building will be a hardship to us.

I have consistently supported landmarking of major architectural and cultural buildings. However, blanket landmarking of whole neighborhoods (or individual buildings) with little architectural import makes a mockery of the substantial benefit that underlies the landmarking law. If T&V is to be landmarked (to which I vehemently object), I repeat and renew the request to exclude from landmark designation the separate back building that is not visible from East 14th Street or First and Second Avenues.

Thank you for your consideration.

Henry Condell, PCV

 

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