Central Synagogue is, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, the finest example of Moorish Revival architecture in New York City. The structure, built in 1872, is also the city’s oldest synagogue in continuous use – despite two disastrous fires.
The stunning landmark is on Lexington Avenue at E55th Street; its twin towers with gilded copper onion domes are impossible to miss. The design, by Henry Fernbach, is a copy of the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest.
Central Synagogue was damaged by fire in 1886, a mere 14 years after opening, but restored. In 1946 the synagogue underwent modernization – architect Ely Jacques Kahn made significant changes to the windows and interior decorations and lighting.
In 1995 the synagogue embarked on a five-year renovation, including the addition of air conditioning. In August 1998, three days before the air conditioning was to be turned on, a fire destroyed most of the building. The congregation decided to rebuild Central Synagogue in its original, pre-modernization, design, with Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer the architects.
(One-hour guided tours are available every Wednesday at 12:45; reservations not required.)
Central Synagogue Vital Statistics
- Location: 652 Lexington Avenue at E55th Street
- Year completed: 1872
- Architect: Henry Fernbach
- Style: Moorish Revival
- New York City Landmark: 1966
- National Register of Historic Places: 1970
Central Synagogue Suggested Reading
- Wikipedia entry
- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
- Central Synagogue website
- New York City chapter, American Guild of Organists website
- Fordham University research
- H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture portfolio