A Synagogue Preserved, Reflecting a Neighborhood’s Transformation

On August 9, 2010, GVSHP and the East Village Community Coalition asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider designating this historic building at 323-327 East 6th Street with various layers of historical significance as a New York City landmark.

Now known as the Community Synagogue Max D. Raiskin Center, it was previously the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Mark. This highly‐intact Renaissance Revival‐style building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building has several periods of cultural significance: 1847, when it was constructed as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew for Dutch, German and English Lutherans; 1857, when it became home to the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Mark, established to serve the East Village’s burgeoning German‐American community; 1904, when nearly 1,000 of its congregants were lost in the General Slocum Ferry disaster, one of the most devastating tragedies in New York City history; and 1940, when the church was converted to a synagogue, reflecting the neighborhood’s transition to the world’s largest Jewish community.Image result for General Slocum Ferry disaster, church

Significantly, the building has not only directly served Germans and Jews, but also played a pivotal role in the transformation of the neighborhood from Kleindeutschland to the Jewish Lower East Side. The General Slocum disaster was regarded as the worst in naval history until the Titanic, and the worst in New York City history until September 11th. As its victims were nearly all women and children, among the major social impacts of the disaster was the migration of the remaining residents to outlying neighborhoods, like the Upper East Side. With the fleeing of the German population, a Jewish Lower East Side emerged. The Community Synagogue was quite literally at the center of this transition.

Architecturally, the design is a unique example of the use of the Renaissance Revival style on an ecclesiastical building; in 1847, the style was more commonly used for commercial and residential structures. The use of the style lent this modestly‐scaled church an air of nobility and stature that is still evident today, as the building is virtually unchanged since the time of its construction in the mid-19th century. The Community Synagogue Max D. Raiskin Center is the first and only building ever to occupy this East Village lot. It is the earliest of all the buildings on this architecturally diverse and intact historic block, of which GVSHP and our allies in 2012 secured historic district (landmark) status, securing our 2010 goal of landmark status for not just this building but approximately 325 surrounding buildings. Read the designation report here.  The building’s distinctive architectural style, its direct connection to two of the East Village’s most influential immigrant groups – Germans and Jews – and its role in the General Slocum disaster all made this vital East Village structure an obvious candidate for protection.

1980’s tax photo.

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