An artisan from Evergreene Studios works on the building
Our building tours offer visitors a peek into the workings of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, and we’ve been busy adding new themes and tours to our lineup. You can now experience Eldridge through the lens of immigration, ritual practice, or architecture and preservation.
On Beyond the Facade: Architecture and Preservation, we break out the flashlights and turn our visitors into forensic architects. What were the choices made by the founders of the Eldridge Street Synagogue 123 years ago? How did this building, the first synagogue built from the ground up by Eastern European Jews, reflect the aspirations of an immigrant community? What techniques and materials were used in its original construction? Which buildings, religious and secular, inspired the architecture of this space?
But this building is more than just an ossified architectural relic, and on the tour visitors also explore the 20-year, 19 million-dollar restoration of this space. What was the preservation philosophy at Eldridge Street? Where can you find the unrestored elements of the building, and why were they left alone? How does a new contemporary window, designed by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans, fit into a high Victorian space? And my favorite: which bug produces the laquer used on the benches?
So next time you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to stop by and experience Eldridge as never before. Offered daily at 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30. Whet your appetite for architecture with this restoration video, which offers insight into the process of restoring this century-old building.
We’re the talk of the town! In the latest edition of the New Yorker, author and architectural critic Paul Goldberger writes about the Museum’s exciting new project, the fabrication and installation of a new East Window in our historic space. Entitled “She Does Windows”, Goldberger’s article includes tidbits from artist Kiki Smith, Museum at Eldridge Street Deputy Director Amy Stein Milford and Eldridge Street Project founder and preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz. If you haven’t run out to the newsstand just yet, here is a sneak peak of what you’ll find inside:
Smith likes that the synagogue already contains five-pointed starts, as well as the six-pointed Star of David. “The five-pointed star is an American invention,” she said. “The people who built this were seeking their identity as Eastern European immigrants, but they were also conscious of being in the New World.”…She looked up at the glass blocks. “We will make the window a picture of the sky. It will subtly give out energy and liveliness and unpredictability. It will be a rupture.”
Here is a roundup of some of the press the new East Window has gotten thus far:
What happens when contemporary art and historic architecture combine? Find out at the Museum at Eldridge Street, which has commissioned artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans to create a new monumental east window for the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue. This installation will be completed in Spring 2010. Walking into the grand sanctuary, visitors will get a taste of both 1887 and 2010, Victorian architecture with a modern day interpretation.
Originally, stained glass rose windows at the front and back greeted worshippers at the Eldridge Street Synagogueon opening day. Always unstable, the East Window finally collapsed out of its frame in the late 1930s, leaving the congregation with a gaping hole at the front of the majestic sanctuary. Lacking the funds for a reproduction, the congregation replaced it with a clear tablet-shaped glass-block design in 1944-45, which remains in the wall today.
During the 20-year restoration process, the East Window became a major question: How do we restore an element for which there are no original building plans and no photographs? After an extended decision-making process, we opted for a new commission which would return an inspiring interior and offer a respectful solution to the irreplaceable original.
Smith and Gans’ design, a galaxy of golden stars against an ever-changing blue firmament, recreates in stained-glass the blue and gold star pattern painted on the walls immediately surrounding the new window. According to their statement, “The new stained-glass window will use the features and motifs of the existing synagogue in a new way so that the mind and eye reflects back on the interior space as they are drawn into the space of the window. The wall pattern of five pointed gold stars against a blue sky will be extended across the window. The ribs of the window will radiate from a Star of David at the center. In pattern and shape, this window will be similar to the existing ceiling domes of the synagogue and also the trompe-l’oeil windows to either side of the arc. The current technology of flash glass makes it possible to etch the yellow stars into a blue field without any outline or leading so that they will appear as more intense sources of light within the glow of the window. The translation of the traditional motif of the synagogue with this material and structure will intensify the floating qualities of the synagogue space and surfaces.”
To inaugurate the new East Window and investigate the challenges of restoration, visit the Museum at Eldridge Street every Wednesday at 1 PM for a special preservation tour. Be sure to keep reading for more about our exciting East Window initiative!