The Lower East Side was covered in smoke Sunday around 7 PM, as the historic Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue at 60 Norfolk Street was ablaze with what the FDNY rated as a three-alarm fire. A cyclist who rode along Delancey Street told the Bowery Boogie local news outlet that he heard a “big explosion” followed quickly by the erupting plume of fire.
Firefighters, whose station is located only a few blocks east of the synagogue, battled the fire for more than an hour, according to the city’s fire department. Heavy flames and smoke shot out of the windows, according to CBS News.
Built in 1850 as a Baptist church, the building of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was purchased in 1885 by Rabbi Abraham Joseph Ash, from Poland, to serve an Orthodox Jewish congregation which was eventually led by Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York City.
The great edifice has had a sparse congregation for several decades, and stood in considerable disrepair while members were trying to raise funds for its grand scale renovation. The synagogue’s upper floors had been condemned since the 1990s, and in 2007 the building was closed altogether.
On May 7 a fire erupted in the building and was put out.
The building was designed in the Gothic Revival style by an unknown architect, with masonry-bearing walls with timber framing at the roof and floors, and brownstone foundation walls and exterior door and window trim.