The Museum at Eldridge Street

From the posh Fifth Avenue establishments overlooking Central Park on the Upper East Side, the third – and final – leg of our discovery OHNY weekend brought us south, to one of New York’s first neighbourhoods where millions of immigrants from all over the world came to settle and where, by 1900, more than 700 people per acre were living in an area lined with tenements and factories, according to the Library of Congress.

Between 1880 and 1924, 2,5 million mostly impoverished Ashkenazi Jews came to the U.S. and nearly 75 percent took up residence on the Lower East Side. (source)

After years of makeshift gatherings in tenements, a dedicated place of worship had become a necessity. Thus the Eldridge Street Synagogue opened its doors in 1887 to New York City Jews from all walks of life. The crowds on holy days were so great that police on horseback had to impose crowd-control. But then came the 1920s with a series of laws to limit the flow of immigrants, the number of worshipers began to decline, many moved to the suburbs and so the Synagogue fell into disuse – and later in complete disrepair.

A sign inside the Museum reads:

‘On a narrow street in Chinatown, in a bustling and ever-changing neighbourhood, the Eldridge Street Synagogue stands – a vestige of another era. It is among the last remaining markers of a time when the Lower East Side was the largest Jewish community in the world. As the first grand synagogue built in America by immigrants from Eastern Europe, it is a repository of its founders’ pride, traditions and spirit. And it is a testament to the struggles of the generations that followed, as well as to the dedication of a new community that gathered to save and renew it.

In December 2007, the restoration of the Synagogue was completed. It took twenty years to bring it back from the brink of ruin to the awe-inspiring landmark it is today, bathed in a soft light pouring from the rose glass window, on the one side, and Kiki Smith’s starry stained-glass, on the other.

For more about the Synagogue’s painstaking restoration please check the Museum’s webpage (before and after photos). The difference is simply astonishing.

Another sign inside the Museum reads:

I don’t know about my photos but the place is wonderfully photogenic – that much is true:

In this series we revisited three – out of the dozens of – buildings and sites that opened their doors during OHNY weekend, on October 14 & 15th, 2017:

The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York
Cultural Services of the French Embassy & Albertine
The Eldridge Street Synagogue

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Open House New York weekend takes place every year in October.
Next series coming up:  October 19-20, 2019.

The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York

[The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York], as their website helpfully informs us, [was founded in 1785 by the skilled craftsmen of the City. Today, this 233-year old organization continues to serve and improve the quality of life of the people of the City of New York through its educational, philanthropic and cultural programs including its tuition-free Mechanics Institute, The General Society Library, and its nearly two-century-old Lecture Series]

How many times have I walked past it, I can’t say for sure. What I do know for certain is, had it not been for the Open House New York Weekend (OHNY), I would still walk past it without ever suspecting the treasures that lay inside this Renaissance-style building, initially constructed in 1890 as a private school for boys.

I would never have suspected that walking through its unassuming door I would enter into the second oldest library in the City (the oldest is the New York Society Library on the Upper East Side).

I would never have learned of the Society’s role in tuition-free education, with programmes that continue to this day.

I would never have laid eyes on every steampunk lover’s dream, the John M. Mossman Lock Collection which consists of more than 370 locks, keys and tools, dating from 4000 B.C. to the early 20th-century.

I would never have walked up to the 6th floor where the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) was welcoming visitors to its Cast Hall which houses their collection of rare plaster casts, commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1880’s-90’s.

But, thanks to OHNY, I am now privy to some of the City’s ”best kept secrets” – and only too happy to share them with you. Hope you enjoy this virtual discovery tour.

In this series we will revisit three – out of the dozens of – buildings and sites that opened their doors during OHNY weekend, on October 14 & 15th, 2017:

The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York
The Consulate General of France & Albertine
The Eldridge Street Synagogue

***

Open House New York weekend takes place every year in October.
Next series coming up:  October 19-20, 2019.