After several years of ferociously heated arguments, the proposal to build an Islamic community center with mosque in a location within a stone’s throw – actually, within the boundaries of where building fragments fell – from New York City’s destroyed Twin Towers slowly died.
But the developer behind the Ground Zero Mosque (or Park51, as it was formally known), Sharif el-Gamal, has now set his sights on mid-town. He and a partner, Murray Hill Properties, signed a contract to buy a building at 205 West 40th Street. The building there is currently occupied by the New School for Design. And there is a synagogue in that building.
The synagogue in the building is called the Garment Center Congregation. That congregation was founded in 1931 to serve the large number of Jewish workers in the shmatte business. At one time there was also a Fur Center Synagogue and a Millinery Center Synagogue, all serving Jewish workers in the apparel industry.
Today there are still several hundred members of the GCC, and services are still held three times daily, although attendance swells during the high holidays.
El-Gamal’s plan is to tear down the current six-story building, synagogue and all, to build a new 23-story high rise. The new building is expected to include three floors of retail space and a 260-room hotel. The synagogue will be housed on the ground floor.
El-Gamal and his partner are paying $61.5 million for the property. The New School announced last year it was putting up the building for sale, because it moved the department to a building in Greenwich Village, according to the New York City real estate media outlet, Curbed. The building was given to the New School by a financial supporter who bought it in 1975. The Garment Center Congregation had already been in the building for a decade by then, and List gave it a 99-year lease for $1.
The synagogue and El-Gamal now have an “excellent, ironclad agreement” for their new home, according to Curbed. Demolition has not yet begun, but it is expected to get underway this spring.
A 2010 article in the Daily News recounted that el-Sharif had several serious legal problems in the past, including assaults and patronizing a prostitute. El-Gamal claimed that all those problems were in the past, that he turned to Islam after 9/11, and that his religious awakening followed a troubled youth.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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