Straphangers weigh in on ways to deal with L train shutdown

Paul Steely-White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Paul Steely-White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A transit-focused nonprofit has enlisted the public to come up with ideas to help make the looming L train shutdown less painful, and the first of three workshops on the subject took place on Monday night at Town and Village Synagogue.

There didn’t seem to be any new ideas but rather people stressing options brought up previously, such as the street being shut down to car traffic and beefing up the supply of buses.

Paul Steely-White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said that regardless of the overall plan, the public feedback process could be a good opportunity to improve bus transit in the city.

Meanwhile, he added that the imminent shutdown will be a serious problem if it’s not met with proactive solutions beforehand.

“We’re trying to get our heads around the thought of what happens if there’s no contingency,” he said. “I don’t think anyone thinks it’ll just be ok if we do nothing.”

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Town & Village School welcomes new principal

New principal Nina Loftspring (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

New principal Nina Loftspring (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Town & Village Synagogue welcomed a new face to their Hebrew School at the beginning of the summer. Nina Loftspring joined the staff as the principal in July and said she’s been busy since then preparing for the beginning of the school year on September 8.

She’s confident that she’ll be able to do everything she needs to but “You always want more time to get everything ready,” she said. “I always want to start preparing in February!”

It wasn’t by chance that Loftspring ended up at Town & Village. Although she has since moved out of the area, she is a former resident of Stuy Town and appreciates that the synagogue is a small, tight-knit community.

“The kids aren’t just a number or a face in the crowd,” she said. “(Town & Village) knows their families and their commitment is seen through everything they do. It’s a very authentic community.”

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T&V Synagogue gets landmarked

Town & Village Synagogue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Town & Village Synagogue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.”

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Throwback Thursday: This week in T&V History

Town & Village has been covering news in the Stuyvesant Town area for over 66 years. This week, we took a look back at the coverage in an issue of this newspaper that ran 50 years ago.

Three Stuy Town teens beaten in random attacks

Three 15-year-old residents of Stuyvesant Town were beaten bloody in two random attacks as they walked home from a dance at Town & Village Synagogue. Though the band of 10 attackers also stole a watch from one the boys, they mainly seemed interested in punching and kicking their victims. The “hoodlums” behind the attacks at around 11:45 p.m. on a Saturday were described as being around 18 years old.

In the first incident, the attackers’ method was to split into two groups of five, each jumping on one of two boys walking through the Oval. One of them managed to escape after getting punched just a few times. However, the other teen suffered a severely bruised and swollen face, his scalp lacerated. His mouth cut and his body bruised. When he screamed, lights went on in surrounding apartment windows and residents leaned out their windows to see what was going on.

Unfortunately, according to the boy’s father, Stuy Town guards weren’t as interested as random neighbors. He said when his son told the guard he had been beaten up, the guard turned his back and said, “So what?” The father said he lodged a complaint, and Stuyvesant Town management said it was being investigated.

The second attack occurred moments after the first as the three members of the wolfpack, apparently broken into smaller groups, were leaving Stuyvesant Town. They walked quickly rather than run out to avoid suspicion. That’s when they encountered a 15-year-old who’d just entered the property on Avenue B. When they walked past him, one of them punched him in the face and then continued walking out.

The boy, whose nose spattered blood, also suffered a chipped tooth, and he became dazed. He was taken to Beth Israel by his parents and later released. He also later went to a dentist to have the tooth repaired.

Refrigerator repairman killed in restaurant blast

In other news that week, a refrigerator repairman was instantly killed in an explosion at a restaurant on East 29th Street the previous Wednesday. Michael Cappelli, 44, of Brooklyn, was trying to recharge the refrigerator in the basement of the restaurant, the Weather Vane, with compressed gas.

After the blast, the restaurant’s cook rushed to the basement and found Cappelli lying face up with most of his head severed.

His last rites were given by Father Karney of St. Stephan’s Roman Catholic Church. The Fire Department, the Bomb Squad and the Emergency Service Department all responded to the call.

Compiled by Sabina Mollot

T&V Synagogue leaders don’t want landmark status

Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Although Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street is currently being considered for landmarking by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the community most affected by the effort isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospect.

“We really don’t want the landmarking,” Synagogue President Marianna Mott Newirth said. “I’ll honor what their decision is but I don’t think the building merits landmarking. We take a position in preserving the community and we’ll have to go through all these hoops because of what they see from the street.”

Town & Village’s building has been on East 14th Street for 150 years, but the synagogue itself began elsewhere, so the physical manifestation for the congregation is not the most important aspect of the community for many of its members.

One such member, Peter Cooper Village resident Henry Condell, wrote a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, published in the May 8 issue of Town & Village, that urged the commission not to landmark the synagogue because many members believe that the continuation of their traditions are more important than the building where the traditions are practiced.

“Even without the threat of landmarking, making our building safe, accessible and adaptable to our needs has proved to be beyond our means,” Condell argued. “Moreover, the space, laid out almost 150 years ago, poses tremendous safety risks to our congregation. 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.”

Newirth noted that the landmarking effort has been going on for almost 40 years and even just being under consideration has affected the synagogue’s ability to make the necessary repairs on their building. “Even just being calendared, if there’s anything that affects the façade we need to go through the LPC,” Newirth said. “There’s work on the roof that can’t be done because we’re being considered for landmarking. Those onion domes, which are one of the main reasons for the landmarking, are exceedingly leaky and of course that’s what everyone sees. But that’s one of the parts that needs to be fixed yesterday. And even now, our hands our tied. That’s a prime example of how being landmarked would cause delays.”

As a compromise, both Newirth and Condell have said that if landmarking does go through, they want to make a distinction between the front part of the building, which includes the historic façade and the main sanctuary, and the back part of the building, which encompasses the kitchen and office spaces that get used for various programs not necessarily related to their religious services. Per this distinction, they are hoping that only the front part of the building be considered for landmarking.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh submitted testimony in favor of the landmarking but also made the distinction between the two parts of the building, based on feedback from constituents who are members of the synagogue, and specified that only the front part of the building should be landmarked. He noted in his testimony that “the building in the back of the lot was not part of the original plan and serves various, newer purposes” and is not architecturally significant.

“We serve our membership but we also serve our greater community, people who are not Jewish,” Newirth said. “The people who were most vocal about landmarking our building have never stepped through our doors and never even knew there was a back building. I can completely understand (the architectural significance of the façade) and we’re not interested in ruining that but we are interested in enhancing what we have so our members can get the most out of our services.”

The LPC hosted a public hearing at the end of March about the proposed landmarking and kicked off a month of public feedback throughout April, but Newirth said that she isn’t sure how long they’ll be waiting for a response. She said that it might even be possible that they’ll have to go through the whole process again because, since the city’s administration has recently changed, a new chair of the commission was just appointed last week.

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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