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DEPT. OF LIVING HISTORY

New Yorkers Get Together to Save a Distinctly Jewish Architectural Gem

The Bialystoker Nursing Home, with its distinctive orange brick and Art Deco façade, has been shut down for a year after its nonprofit operators has been unable to keep the institution in business.

Years ago, I shot this image for the Grand Street News from a high floor of the Seward Park co-op on Grand Street. I believe it captures some of the Art Deco beauty of this edifice.

Years ago, I shot this image for the Grand Street News from a high floor of the Seward Park co-op on Grand Street. I believe it captures some of the Art Deco beauty of this edifice.
Photo Credit: Yori Yanover

The Bialystoker Nursing Home, with its distinctive orange brick and Art Deco façade, has been shut down for a year after its nonprofit operators has been unable to keep the institution in business.

Now city preservationists want to declare the building a landmark before somebody turns it into condominiums.

Indeed, the board of what used to be the nursing home wants to sell the home and adjacent properties “as quickly as possible,” as a spokeswoman told the NY Post, adding there was “significant interest” in the site.

The closed home is encumbered with serious financial debt, including $3 million which is owed to its unionized workers.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the area, came out in support of landmarking in July. But so far Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the most powerful man in the state and, of course, the Lower East Side, his home district, has not exactly endorsed the idea, although he did state that if the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission decides to declare the building a landmark, he would support their decision.

“This was an important place,” Sam Solasz, 85, chairman of the nursing home’s board for 24 years, told the Post. “I will fight no matter how much it costs.”

I turned to my good friend, City historian Joyce Mendelsohn, who is among the founders of Friends of the Bialystoker Home (FBH) for a little more information about the Bialystoker Home and Center, at 228 East Broadway (designed by architect Harry Hurwit in 1931). She sent me the following email:

Friends of the Bialystoker Home (FBH) is a grass roots group formed in September, 2011, out of concern for the future of the building, after it was announced that the home would be closed and patients relocated to other facilities outside the Lower East Side.

FBH organized a campaign to save the building through landmark designation after the Home was listed by Grubb and Ellis, a real estate firm, as a tear-down, or, as they put it: “a highly desirable development site.”

A landmark designation would protect the building from demolition and would require approval from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission of all proposals by the new owner for additions or alteration to the building.

The sale of the building is imminent to a developer who would demolish this precious remnant of the Jewish legacy on the Lower East Side and replace it with luxury condos.

Neighborhood residents, concerned individuals, local groups and citywide organizations rallied to save this rare surviving building that reflects the history and culture of caring for generations of Jewish immigrants and their descendants on the Lower East Side. Sixteen Sponsoring Organizations signed on in support of landmark designation. They include the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Museum at Eldridge Street, Congregation Kehila Kedosha Janina, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, Historic Districts Council, NYC Landmarks Conservancy, Art Deco Society of New York and the Gotham Center for NYC History, CUNY/Graduate Center.

The founders of the Home were immigrant Jews from Bialystok, Poland, who established a federation of landsmanshaftn and erected the Bialystoker Home for the Aged for their headquarters and as a sizable facility to care for the elderly and infirm. In announcing plans for this endeavor, they declared, “Our Home will combine modernity with compassion – a Home with a Heart that will stand as a monument for succeeding generations.”

Harry Hurwit – who grew up on the LES and was the architect of several smaller buildings in the neighborhood – designed the striking ten-story structure with ornament expressing its Jewish heritage. The distinctive entrance arch displays two menorahs and twelve stone medallions each representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel, surmounted by the name, “BIALYSTOKER” in Hebraic-style lettering. The building exhibits a unique combination of Jewish symbolism and deco design that signifies a community firmly rooted in traditions of their homeland and, at the same time, proclaiming their rightful place in America.

For further information and photos, go to: friendsofthelowereastside.org

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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