Tag Archives: moorish revival

256 Fifth Avenue

256 Fifth Avenue is among the few examples of Moorish Revival architecture in New York City. As the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission noted, it’s “remarkably intact” for a building that went up in 1893.

The windows steal the show: Their size, shape, number and decoration changes from floor to ornate floor.

Alas, the building is not without alterations. The ground floor storefront is now standard commercial granite; the sixth-floor terra cotta balcony was removed – probably because it was in danger of falling after a century of use. The gaps in the terra cotta were never filled in.

256 Fifth Avenue Vital Statistics
256 Fifth Avenue Recommended Reading

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Central Synagogue

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

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Park East Synagogue

Park East Synagogue is an “especially imaginative” example of the Moorish Revival architecture popular for 19th century synagogues, in the words of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“A detailed description of this complicated facade,” said the Commission, “cannot recreate the liveliness and imagination with which the elements are composed. A multitude of readings is possible and each element is used in an original and sometimes surprising context. Elements that have structural roles are used ornamentally and in conjunction with other elements in a unique manner, such as the frequent use of balusters in place of columns or piers in arcades. This inventiveness adds a playful, almost whimsical, note to the profusely ornamented facade which is reminiscent of the character, if not the detail, of Northern Renaissance architecture.”

The report notes that the towers were originally topped by bulbous domes (similar to Central Synagogue).

The building’s inventiveness fit the congregation, which founding Rabbi Bernard Drachman described as a “harmonious combination of Orthodox Judaism and Americanism.”

At the same time, the synagogue was a huge jump for the architects, Ernst Schneider and Henry Herter, whose main work had been tenements in the Lower East Side and Clinton.

Park East Synagogue Vital Statistics
Park East Synagogue Recommended Reading

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