Tuesday, July 11, 2017

USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Cong. Shaaray Tefila

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
USA: Arnold Brunner's "Forgotten" Synagogue, the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila
by Samuel D. Gruber

The synagogues of architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) are increasingly well known.  I have published about Brunner, as have colleagues Steven Fine and David Kaufman. But despite a few articles and passing mentions in various works, there is still much to be discovered and presented about Brunner's influential residential, institutional, synagogue, and urban design work (I've been working off and on toward that book for several years now).

I'm inspired to come back now to one significant, though little known, Brunner project because I recently walked by it while visiting David Kaufman. So of course the building - the former Congregation Shaaray Tefila, built in 1896, and now the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - came up in conversations about New York synagogues and Jewish history.

Earliest image of former Shaaray Tefila from New York Times (April 14, 1894, p. 8)
Brunner designed at least seven independent synagogues as well as several synagogues included as parts of larger complexes, especially hospitals. The early synagogues are each quite distinct, as Brunner incorporated elements from various sources, and was still grappling with his own idea of what a synagogue is and how a synagogue building should appear. In the mid-1890s one can see Brunner moving away from the more exotic Romanesque, Venetian and Moorish influences and developing a more contemporary style rooted in Georgian or Colonial architecture, and then, with the success of congregation Shearith Israel, combining this with fully classical exteriors.  By the late 1890s he settled on his preferred form and decorative palette – which  he stayed with for a quarter century. This was linked to an intellectual foundation for his synagogue designs, adapting ancient architecture to contemporary needs as expressed in his writings on synagogue architecture.

New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: sideways.nyc
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: sideways.nyc
New York, NY.  Cong. Shearith Israel, Central Park West. Detail of original stained glass. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896-97. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Because they were highly visible, all of Brunner’s New York synagogues were quite influential, though his own rapid development in the 1890s made his earliest work at Beth El and Shaaray Tefila almost obsolete as a source for others within a few years of their erection. Still, both synagogues were copied in part, and at least two close copies of Shaaray Tefila were built by other architects in Manhattan.

Just two year’s after the dedication of Beth-El, Brunner (and his partner Tryon) were at work on a new synagogue project – the new home of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, designated for a site at West 82nd Street and Amsterdam avenues on the Upper West Side. The cornerstone was laid on October 5, 1893.  The rabbi of Beth-El, Rev. Dr. K. Kohler offered the dedicatory prayer. [see: “Synagogue Cornerstone Laid,” New York Times (Oct. 6, 1893), p. 9.].

Congregation Shaaray Tefila grew out of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. The congregation had previously worshiped at Broadway near Franklin Street, and then moved to Wooster Street, and then in 1866 they bought land on 44th street near Broadway and erected a new building designed by Henry Fernbach, that was dedicated May 4, 1869. Brunner probably grew up as a member of that congregation and would have been very familiar with the earlier building, and probably celebrated his Bar mitzvah there in the fall of 1870. The building influenced his design for Beth-El. Services for Brunner’s deceased uncle Samuel Brunner (1830-1872) took place there in 1872. Samuel was the brother of William Brunner, and he was married to Brunner’s mother’s sister Sophia (1846-1922). There were even closer family reasons for Brunner’s receiving the commission. The president of the Congregation was Solomon B. Solomon (1842-1930), the younger brother of Brunner’s mother Isabella. Arnold Brunner’s grandfather, Barnett Solomon (1806-1897), past president of the congregation, had the honor of tapping the cornerstone into place.

I have not consulted any records of the congregation, but some are preserved at the American Jewish Archives and I'll try to look at them when in Cincinnati in November. 
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Window dtl with Mo0rish elements. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
The design of the synagogue was described in the New York Times as being:
“designed in the Moresque manner, the Alhambra at Grenada (sic) having been taken as a model for the ornamentation and general treatment. The front will be partly of Indiana limestone and partly of brick and terracotta, of the same color. The main entrance will be arcaded, and over this will be an elaborate group of arched windows, separated by slender columns with carved capitals. The vestibule will be reached by a double flight of steps, with stone balustrades. The auditorium will be 60 by 70 feet and 50 feet in height, and will seat 650 people. The ark will be placed in an arched recess, against a background of highly-decorated arcaded windows, filled with stained glass. By special arrangement of lighting, the same effect will be obtained at night as by day.”
The form of the building façade can also be described as Venetian, for Brunner adapted the traditional Venetian palace façade for the synagogue’s public face. There were other Venetian buildings in the city at the time and the influence of John Ruskin in America was still strong. Many of New York’s Venetian buildings however, such as the Academy of Design (1862) and McKim Mead and Whites’ Herald Building (18??), use the Doge’s Palace as a model. As Rachel Wischnitzer pointed out many years ago, Brunner also used Venetian elements in Temple Beth El.

Within a decade Brunner would fully eschew the Moorish style for synagogue. In his 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia article he wrote:

The general results of the Moorish movement have been unfortunate; the greatest delicacy of feeling for both form and color is needed to preserve the beauty of Moorish architecture, and curiously shaped domes and towers and misapplied horseshoe arches, turrets, and pinnacles have often resulted, presenting in many cases a grotesque appearance rather than the dignity and simplicity that should have been attained.
The unpleasant results may be seen in St. Petersburg, London, Philadelphia, and in many parts of Germany. Emphasizing the towers that contain the stairs to the galleries, which are invariably on either side of the main entrance, is a common device, and the Temple Emanu-El in New York is so treated. In this case the minarets are graceful and skilfully placed; but the usual result is a loss of dignity; a single central motive is more pleasing. 
The most successful buildings in all great architectural periods are simple in design; whether large or small, richly decorated or not, simplicity is their main characteristic, and the desire to produce the picturesque and unusual is fatal to the dignity which should characterize the synagogue.
But in the early 1890s Brunner was still content to use Moorish forms - even though the building's side walls, visible only from within, employed large Georgian tri-partite window arrangements, with the center window much wider and taller than the flanking one, in the manner of Palladian  windows.
New York, NY. Former Cong. Shaaray Tefila (now Ukrainian Cathedral), West 82nd St. Arnold Brunner, arch., 1896. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
New York, NY. former Temple Beth El. Brunner & Tryon, archs, 1891.
Like the Venetian palazzo, the synagogue is not free-standing, and is mostly viewed obliquely, from one end or the other of the relatively narrow West 82nd Street. Unlike Beth El, with its great dome facing Central Park, there is no distant view of Shaaray Tefila. Like Venetian palaces (and many New York row houses) Brunner placed the more important spaces high up. The main entrance is reached be ascending stairs which run parallel to the street and the façade, and terminate on a wide stoop from which one can survey the street the height, or turn and enter through a colonnade of four short columns carrying slightly pointed arches. Both stairs and stoop are lined with a fine balustrade. This type of portico, which is copied above, but with taller windows, is also a staple of Venetian palace facades. 

New York, NY. Kehillah Jeshurun,  East 85th Street. George Pelham, arch 1902. Photo: Wikipedia (2008).
New York, NY. Congregation Sons of Kalwarie  Pike Street. Alfred E. Badt arch, 1904. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
The design of Sharray Tefila was subsequently copied almost in its entirety for New York’s Kehillah Jeshurun on East 85th Street in 1902 by George Pelham (this synagogue was severely damaged by fire in 2011). The more overt Moorish or Venetian arcades have had their pointed arches transformed with sober round-arched opening. But otherwise the Pelham’s façade copies Brunner’s in all its essentials. That an Orthodox congregation should sanction the copying of the design of a Reform synagogue is remarkable, and perhaps is a testimony to the effectiveness of Brunner’s solution for a synagogue forced to build on a side street. The design was copied yet again by Congregation Sons of Kalwarie for their building on Pike Street on the Lower East Side.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander!

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander. Photo: NYPL 1654212

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander.

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander (July 6, 1890 - Oct. 24, 1966)
by Samuel D. Gruber

Leo Friedlander may be the least known but most visible of American Jewish sculptors He was a leader of architectural and monumental sculpture in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, and many of his works still adorn public buildings and spaces.The height of his career was in the 1930s when his figurative sculpture - free standing and in relief with recognizable but slightly distorted body types - was applied to some of the visible sites in New York, Washington, D.C. and in other major cities.  I don't think anyone today would consider Friedland a great sculptor - but he was regarded as a highly capable one, and a sculptor who was able to consistently combine his personal aesthetic with an appeal to popular taste. He combined his work straddled traditional Beaux-Arts figurative composition with Art Deco patterning and stylization.

He sculpted reliefs on Rockefeller Center in New York and provided the highly visible thirty-three-foot figures representing the "Four Freedoms (speech, press, religion, and assembly)  at the central esplanade of the 1939 World's Fair. The Fair was one of the the last great moments for figurative sculpture in the United States. Following World War II abstraction quickly gained favor. Friedlander was president of the National Sculpture Society in the 1950s a position from which he railed against the newest trends.

New York, NY. Rockefeller Center under construction with Leo Friedlander reliefs.
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by  Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center with Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops

New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Television by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
 At Rockefeller Center, Friedlander supplied reliefs on several themes for the side entrances. He had previously worked with architect Raymond Hood on the Social Science Building for the  1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, in Chicago, and had also been an assistnat earlier in his career to Paul Manship, who sculpted the central plaza figure of Prometheus. Friedlander's primary relief was at the 49th Street entrance, and was titled:  Transmission Receiving an Image of Dancers and Flashing it Through the Ether by Means of Television to Reception, Symbolized by Mother Earth and her Child, Man, perhaps the first work of art addressing the new medium of television. Carol Krinsky notes in her book Rockefeller Center (Oxford, 1978, p. 144) that John D. Rockefeller did not care for Friedlander's work and that he wrote that they were "gross and beautiful."

Friedlander is also well known for his colossal public monuments, including the equestrian statues for the Arts of War installation of the equestrian statues Valor and Sacrifice at Washington, D.C.'s Arlington Memorial Bridge. 

Washington, DC. Memorial Bridge. Arts of Wars (Sacrifice), by Leo Friedlander.
Friedlander is included in Who's Who in American Jewry 1926, but I have found few other mentions of Jewish affiliation. He was born in New York David and Margarethe (King) Friedlander. He was a precocious artist and exhibited drawings at the Art Students League in New York when he was only twelve years old. He trained in Europe at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Brussels and Paris, and then as an Fellow in Sculpture at the American Academy in Rome (Prix de Rome 1913-1916), probably the first Jewish artist so honored. He also worked as an assistant to sculptor Paul Manship, America's leading exponent of Art Deco style sculpture.

Leo Friedlander standing in front of model for relief panel for Television, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0119041.

Friedlander later headed the sculpture department at New York University and was also president of the National Sculpture Society. In 1936, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1949.

I have not done any deep research on Friedlander, but am not aware of any specifically Jewish commissions or works of Jewish content. There is, however, a bronze sculpture Tree of Life in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. While this theme could be Jewish, but it is a common theme non-denominational theme, too.  You can see other works by Friedlander in the Smithsonian collection here.

Tree of Life n.d. Leo Friedlander Born: New York, New York 1888 Died: White Plains, New York 1966 bronze 23 x 9 3/4 x 12 1/2 in. (58.4 x 24.7 x 31.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Gordon D. Friedlander 1971.151 Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friedlander was also one of many leading artists who exhibited a model at the Jewish Museum in October 1949 for the proposed Holocaust Monument planned for Riverside Park in New York City, but never built. 

Here is a partial list of his major works (from Wikipedia). I'll expand this in the future: 

• The central pediment (1930) at the Museum of the City of New York 
• Sculptures at Washington Memorial Arch, Valley Forge National Historical Park 
• Reliefs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. 
• Sculpted reliefs (1931), Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama 
• Pylons, Social Science Building, (1932) 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago 
• Reliefs (1939) on the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center 
• The Arts of War sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, flanking the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C. 
• Four Freedoms statues, 1940 New York World's Fair 
• Memory Sculpture, War Memorial, Richmond, VA 
• American Military Cemetery, Hamm, Luxembourg 
• Covered Wagon sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR

• Lewis and Clark sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR 
• Roger Williams Statue, Prospect Terrace Park, Providence, RI 
• Pioneer Woman Statue, Texas Women's University, Denton, TX

• Sculptured Clock, House of Representatives, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. 
• Bacchante, bronze statue, Metropolitan Museum of Art 
• "Harmony Creates Tranquility" bronze medal, Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Good biographical and critical source material on Friedlander is not readily available - so reader's are invited to send in more information

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

USA: The Sad Ruins of New York's Beth HaMidrash HaGadol

New York. NY. Ruins of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
New York. NY. Ruins of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
USA: The Sad Ruins of New York's Beth HaMidrash HaGadol
by Samuel D. Gruber

[n.b. this post has been edited and expanded on July 5, 2017]

Visiting New York last week, I confronted the recent fiery destruction of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol [n.b. the name of also often spelled Beth Hamedrash Hagodol] formerly one of the grandest and most storied Orthodox synagogues of New York's Lower East Side. The large two-towered building, built as a church in 1848-50 and subsequently purchased and converted to use as a Russian Orthodox synagogue in 1885,  irrevocably burned on May 14, 2017. 

New York. NY. Beth HaMidrash HaGadol at the beginning of the 20th century. Photo: Jewish Encyclopedia
New York. NY. Beth HaMidrash HaGadol in 1999. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 1999.
New York. NY. Beth HaMidrash HaGadol, sanctuary interior.

The synagogue remained in good condition through most the tenure of Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, a Holocaust survivor of the Kovno Ghetto, who wrote The Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, who presided there from 1952 until his death in 2003. The building began to seriously deteriorate in the 1990s. The fate of the synagogue has been in jeopardy for at least a decade, and it had been closed since 2007. Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, seemingly acting on his own, filed a “hardship application” with the Landmarks Preservation Commission in December 2012 seeking permission to demolish the building to allow for residential development. Previously, in 2009, 3 congregants held a meeting in which they agreed to sell the building for $10 to Beth HaMidrash Restoration Inc., a Type "C" charitable corporation under section 201 under NYS not-for-profit state law. in which 3 people were named as officers of Beth HaMidrash Restoration Inc. One of these individuals died in 2014 (you need to have at least 3 board members). 

In my experience, it is reasonable to assume that a non-religious charitable organization of a "Friends of" type, separate from the religious organization, would be needed to seek and receive certain types of grants and reach a larger donor pool, such groups are usually established by the IRS as 501 (c) charities, not the less transparent New York State "201 (C)". While admittedly not-for-profit law is complex, it seems to me that a 201 (C) is more likely to be part of a housing redevelopment project than one for renewal or restoration of an historic religious property. On the other hand, it may be much quicker to set up a the NYC charity than go through the IRS filing and review. 

According to an article by Allegra Hobbs:
[Rabbi] Greenbaum said he had been in talks shortly before the fire to sell the synagogue's air rights to developer Gotham Development, an arrangement that would ensure repairs for the house of worship. The deal would also facilitate the development of affordable housing and a community center on a neighboring property owned by the Chinese-American Planning Council, which runs the senior center next door.
It seems to me that while now it is possible that the entire synagogue site could be used for housing, it is also possible that the site could become an historic park with synagogue ruins and historical information, and the air rights could still be sold. I'll be writing examples of such arrangements in future posts.

While the application for demolition was withdrawn in 2013, there appears to have been little effort to protect and preserve the building. There is no public evidence of fund raising or restoration work done since the sale to Beth HaMidrash Restoration Inc. While saving the building would have been a massive undertaking, the success of other preservation projects suggests this could have been possible if it had been the real intent. In the past, substantial preservation funds granted by outside agencies went unused. Two weeks ago the congregation submitted a request for demolition of the ruins.

New York. NY. Ruins of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Now the Lower East Side community, city safety experts, the NY Landmarks Preservation Board, and profit-scenting developers are debating the ruins' fate. Some say tear them down immediately and develop the property for profit; others say go slow and see about developing a project that conserves some remnant of the structure and serves the community. 

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who has often been a mediating figure between local developers and neighborhood preservation groups, expressed concern over demolition plans. In a statement she said "When this devastating fire occurred, I held out hope that this vital piece of the Lower East Side's history could  be preserved for future generations ... I still hope that a portion of this historic structure can be saved. I urge all of the parties involved to work together to explore every option to prevent the full demolition of this sacred building."

Unlike the ruin of the midtown Central Synagogue when it was burned nearly 20 years ago, Beth HaMidrash does not have a waiting congregation or an insurance settlement to help rebuild. In any case, Beth HaMidrash HaGadol is so destroyed that even rebuilding would not bring back its historic fabric - which was mostly the sanctuary interior. Even that interior had been compromised in recent years, Neglect and then closing of the building led to extensive damp and mold issues, and other conservation problems, which would have made the preservation of much of the woodwork difficult.

On June 20th, the local Community Board #3 Landmarks Committee took testimony about the future of the ruins. Their fate in the short term depends on what danger city inspectors believe the standing walls pose. The site is fenced off, and while a superficial look suggest they are mostly stable - including the solid brick apsed ark wall - it is hard to say whether this wall or the remains of the facade tower would withstand high winds and rain, or the vibrations of heavy equipment removing other rubble.  For sure, in Eastern Europe  I've seen walls much like these stand as ruins for generations. But even if the walls were deemed safe - at least now - the rest of the building debris needs to be cleared way. To do this with heavy equipment and salvage the walls is tricky and expensive business.  

At the CB# 3 meeting, Dr.  Elissa Sampson, a geographer and historian of the Lower East Side, longtime activist in LES religious and cultural affairs, and my Jewish Studies Program colleague at Cornell University, began her testimony summing up the situation: 

The loss of a building can tear a hole in people's hearts as well as in a Lower East Side street's fabric. One of the most famous landmarked synagogues in New York, Beth HaMidrash HaGadol, was destroyed by fire on May 14th. While most importantly there was no loss of life, there is a vital loss of place and we are now all dealing with the tragic aftermath. Among other things, the synagogue's existence was a critical marker of the rapid mass immigration of Eastern European Jews to the United States. I think that there is no disagreement here as to importance of appropriately dealing with whatever DOB’s determination is regarding the demolition of most of the building.
While we don't know fully what can reasonably be saved now, it is eminently clear that with some real effort the building could have been saved before the fire. Instead, each year we watched how bidding went higher even as the building continued to deteriorate further to the point of dereliction. As late as March, 2013, Robert Silman Engineering was brought in by LPC, funded by NY Landmarks Conservancy, and they determined that the exterior of the building could be saved. Equivalent exercises had taken place over the years. There is no shadenfreude here; what eventually happened seems to be a case of coming to the table far too late for the building’s sake.
It is hard to imagine anyone taking the effort to save these ruins when those responsible  neglected the building for so long, citing financial hardship as a primary reason.  This building could have been saved if the owners - a less-than-transparent  restoration coterie set up by the congregation - had really wanted to to save the structure.  It is not ironic - but rather a significant factor that led to the neglect - that the building site is worth a lot of money, and when the building is fully gone money will almost rain from heaven.  True, when the building stood significant income that could have gone to repairs and restoration was possible by selling air rights. But now that the building is destroyed - and if the ruins are demolished - then the lot can be sold and developed for much much more - perhaps a sum in the tens of millions of dollars. 

According to recent an article by Bill Weinberg in the Villager, (June 29, 1917) reporting on the CB# meeting:
At the meeting, Rabbi Greenbaum admitted that air rights above the landmarked building were worth an estimated $12 million before the fire, whereas the site without landmark protection could fetch $18 million. Numerous reports indicated that the synagogue’s owners had been in talks with the Gotham Organization — developers of the Gotham West luxury complex on 11th Ave. in Midtown.
When asked by this reporter if the Gotham Organization idea has now been officially dropped, Greenbaum’s consultant Thomas McMahon replied by e-mail: “Nothing official. The idea and conversation continues to find a way [sic] to develop the property in a way that makes sense. Gotham was one of the respondents to a RFP [request for proposals] issued by the CaPC [Chinese American Planning Council].”
New York. NY. Ruins of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
New York. NY. Ruins of Beth Hamidrash Hagadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

New York. NY. Ruins of Beth HaMidrash HaGadol after May 14, 2017 fire. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Such lure of money has often been attractive to other religious groups and it is understandable when the funds reaped from one site might be reinvested into another, and the congregation remains a going concern. But in the hot real estate marker of the Lower East Side small congregations - or often a few people who speak for the entire history of a congregation - are ready to cash out. The transactions will not be transparent, and there is no assurance that the use of the funds will serve the public good. Public oversight of ownership and sale of religious and charitable properties is often lax, and also subject to political pressures.

If the site is sold who will get this money? The small coterie that has controlled and neglected the site for years - probably waiting for this windfall? Since this has been a religious building off the tax rolls for its entire existence, it would be shame - a scandal really - to see proceeds from the destruction enrich a few. Traditionally in Jewish law proceeds from the sale of synagogue buildings go to the upkeep of cemeteries or to religious schools. By most American state law, the assets of a defunct congregation or other not-for-profit might go to the nearest similar organization (cy-pres doctrine). In this case, while the Beth HeMidrash HaGadol congregation is defunct, they have already transferred their assets - the value of the building site - to the not-for-profit 201 (C).  Since the purpose of the Beth HaMidrash Restoration Inc. was ostensibly the restoration of the building which is now not possible, could that organization now be considered defunct and it's assets transferred to other organizations, too? I'm sure many lawyers will be investigating this question (and billing for it).

Even if the building all comes down and most funds are directed to Jewish charitable and educational needs, it would be good if some large amount of future proceeds go into a fund - perhaps managed by the Landmarks Conservancy, the Lower East Side Conservancy or another preservation group, to assist the maintenance and restoration of other needed Lower East Side historic buildings, or even perhaps more specifically, local historic Jewish sites. We'll have to follow closely who will profit from this loss.

Taking the board through a documented history of preservation evaluations and surveys of the building and the lack of any real progress over the years, Dr. Sampson was quite explicit in her recommendation to CB#3:

As long as there is reason to suspect that the main results of development will be to the financial benefit of the individuals involved, and that the public benefit and use of the property is not clarified through legal paperwork or other means, I am recommending that no steps be taken toward development or demolition other than those required by DOB’s safety recommendations. We should not legitimate undermining the example of Rabbi Oshry, the revered Kovno rabbi who not only led its congregation after the War, but landmarked its building in 1967 to purposely prevent its demolition. If the proposal is indeed to put his name on what is in effect a new building, we need to be asking now what that new building will be, what community purpose will it serve, what will it look like, and what will surround it in terms of other new development. And we need to know in the public interest how the money trail works for what is ostensibly a publicly regulated charity
At the end of the hearing the Community Board 3 Landmarks Committee passed a resolution to protect as much as can be saved of the original structure after public safety is taken into account. They declared in part the approval of "the application for demolition, but urges the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Department of Buildings, the Chinese American Planning Council and the Synagogue to work together with the structural engineers to determine which elements of the Synagogue can be retained safely and that those elements be incorporated into any new building on the lot.”

Beth HaMidrash HaGadol had previously been a Baptist and then a Methodist Church, and after its conversion to synagogue use in 1895 architects Shneider & Herter were hired to strengthen and remodel the building. In the 20th century much of the added exterior ornament of the building was removed, probably for safety and to avoid the expense of maintaining it. A very thorough congregational and building history is provided on Wikipedia.