Beyond the Façade
The art and architecture of the Eldridge Street Synangogue
The Museum’s primary asset is our home, the magnificent Eldridge Street Synagogue. During our Beyond the Façade tour for visitors and here on our website, we consider the building’s various elements as a curator would a collection of artwork or artifacts. By looking closely at the synagogue’s design and decoration we can better understand the beliefs and aspirations of the Lower East Side community who gathered here and who made changes to the building over time.
Opened in 1887, the Eldridge Street Synagogue is the first great house of worship built by East European Jews in America. It is now a National Historic Landmark. The architects were Peter and Francis Herter, German Catholic tenement builders who had never before worked on a sacred site. Together with the congregation, they created a structure that expressed pride in the community’s Jewish identity and new status in America. Additions were made in the years that followed reflecting the congregation’s changing tastes, traditions and economic reality.
By the 1950s, the building’s main sanctuary was closed off and left to the elements. With the founding of the Eldridge Street Project in 1986, a 25-year, $18.5 million restoration was begun, involving many critical preservation decisions. In the fall of 2010, the final element of this restoration was completed with the installation of a new stained glass window by contemporary artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. The story of the building has many chapters and is ever evolving.