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The Insider's Connection

Gothic Revival

Norfolk Building Transformation: Synagogue to Art Foundation

How do buildings reflect changing times? What saves an abandoned building from demolition in a rapidly-gentrifying city? Was it sacrilege or a saving grace to turn the oldest standing synagogue in New York City into an exclusive event space? The building at 172 Norfolk Street was built in 1849, commissioned by Jewish organization Anshe Chesed (“People of Kindness”). The congregation hired Alexander Saeltzer to design it (Saelter also designed the Public Theater and the Academy of Music on Astor Place) and aesthetic was the priority as they designed their synagogue.  Many members of the congregation were immigrants, or children of immigrants. Anshe Chesed Synagogue, or “Norfolk Street Congregation,” was the first German-Jewish synagogue in New York, and soon Polish and Dutch Jews joined the community. Congregation members were coming from countries where synagogues had to be hidden and inconspicuous. In…

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October 8, 2019

Chelsea’s Limelight Building–the Church? the Nightclub? the Gym?

 The northeast corner of 6th Avenue and West 20th has looked nearly the same since 1844. The building’s facade, a striking asymmetrical church, was designed by Richard Upjohn when the neighborhood was home to Manhattan’s wealthiest families. Though its Gothic revival-style exterior has hardly changed in 175 years, the stories of this Chelsea corner reveal the city’s secrets and its tendency to keep changing. On this corner 150 years ago, you’d run into Cornelius Vanderbilt or John Jacob Astor coming out of the Church of the Holy Communion, the original congregation here. On this corner 30 years ago, there’d be thousands of Club Kids in lines around the block, and you might catch a glimpse of 50 Cent, Cyndi Lauper, or the Beastie Boys getting ready to perform. On this corner today, who do you see? What story are you…

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August 19, 2019

The Glamour and The Despair, The Barbizon Hotel

How do images from popular culture imbue legacy onto a structure? If a building is landmarked, does that mean its story will continue being told? How do we use grand narratives to remain comfortable and avoid looking into the hidden histories of people and places? The Barbizon Hotel operated from 1927-1981 as a women-only residence. The Late Gothic Revival-style building at 140 East 63rd Street stands at 23 stories tall, and for decades its 700 tiny dormitory rooms were home to young, hopeful, single women with modest means and huge dreams. Through pop culture, the Hotel has become somewhat iconic. Variations of the Barbizon are shown in Mad Men, The Bell Jar, Agent Carter, and more. Today, the landmarked building–a unique pink-toned brick exterior with Italian Renaissance characteristics–is now full of luxury condominiums with an Equinox gym downstairs. In the…

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July 8, 2019

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