Fire seriously damages historic Lower East Side synagogue

(JTA) – A fire seriously damaged a historic synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Sunday evening blaze at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol burned for several hours and took at least two hours for firefighters to bring under control, according to reports. It burned for several hours afterward.

It is not clear how the fire started, according to reports. An investigation will be led by the fire marshal, though the fire chief has said the blaze started inside the building, NBC New York reported.

The Gothic-style building was empty at the time of the fire. Two firefighters reportedly were injured while trying to bring it under control.

Built in 1850 as a Baptist church, the building was purchased in 1885 to become the first Eastern European congregation founded in New York City and served Russian Jews. The congregation closed the synagogue in 2007 after determining it did not have the $3 million to $4 million needed for repairs. In 1967, the building was declared a city landmark, and in 2003 it was designated an endangered historic site.

Local residents told the New York Post that another fire had broken out in the building last week, though it was not confirmed by the newspaper.

The synagogue in recent years has sought to “de-landmark” the building, allowing for condominiums to be built on the site, with a small synagogue to be built on the ground floor.

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