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Partner Spotlight: Museum at Eldridge Street

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Published on
September 27, 2023

The Museum at Eldridge Street is housed in the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue. Built in 1887, it is an architectural marvel and a symbol of immigrant aspirations realized. The building is the first grand synagogue purpose-built by EasternEuropean Jewish immigrants in the United States and was nearly lost to neglect before the Museum’s 20-year, $20 million restoration project returned the space to glory and public use.

Visitors are welcome to tour the National Historic Landmark and learn about its time as a cultural hotspot in the bustling Jewish Lower East Side, to its decades of decay, to its miraculous rebirth as a 21st-century Museum in present-day Chinatown.

Exhibits, tours, public programs, and education tell the story of Jewish immigrant life, explore architecture and historic preservation, inspire reflection on cultural continuity, and foster collaboration and exchange between people of all faiths, heritages, and interests.

Q: Can you highlight one recent program?

One recurring walking tour that we offer is our Activism on the Lower East Side tour, centered around the landmarks in the movement for social and economic reform on the Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. The tour begins inside the Museum on the Women’s Balcony of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, where guests learn about the crucial role Jewish women played in social and economic change both in the congregation and in the neighborhood and city. Then, the group ventures out into the streets to explore key stops including the first municipally constructed playground in the Nation, the Forward Building, the former Rutgers Square, and more!

You can find all our upcoming programming on our website at

Q: What is something about your organization that most people don't know/unfamiliar with?

One thing that people may not know about the Museum at Eldridge Street is that the architects who designed the building were not Jewish and that the EldridgeStreet Synagogue was the first and only synagogue they ever built. Peter and Francis Herter were German Catholic immigrants—recent arrivals to New York. They were more well-known for designing tenement apartments. Perhaps David Cohen, a real estate mogul and congregation leader whose office was a few doors down from the Herters’ offices on Broadway, made the connection. The synagogue’s construction cost about $91,000—roughly equivalent to $2.5million today—and took only 11 months to complete! This was very impressive and a massive group effort considering that, at this time, the average yearly salary was approximately $435 for a typical family on the Lower East Side.

Q: How does your organization’s mission intersect with Archtober’s mission?

Archtober showcases the many structural feats that pepper the cityscape, and the Museum at Eldridge Street is proud to be a part of the cultural mélange that makes up the Lower East Side neighborhood—a shining example of the intersection of beauty in architecture with historical significance. The Museum at Eldridge Street would not exist without the efforts of the Eldridge Street Project, the organization which worked to fund and organize the 20-year restoration. Their commitment to restoring the Eldridge Street Synagogue culminated in the building’s reopening as a museum in 2007.

The original East Window, which suffered damage and had been replaced with glass blocks in the mid 20th century, was a unique opportunity to introduce a new element to the Museum's interior. Since there was no record of the original window, in 2010, a collaborative design by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans was selected for a new East Window, thus adding to the splendor of the Museum’s interior and the celebration of the present while keeping a firm hold on the past. The history of the Museum is one of endurance; its existence today is an admirable feat that reflects the stories of not only its original congregants but also the people who worked hard to restore and preserve the Museum’s integrity.

Q: What is a design object in your collection (or on the building) that you would like to highlight?

Features we love to focus on at the Museum at Eldridge Street are the Moorish-style arches and domes of our beautiful Main Sanctuary. They are both functional and decorative, helping to support the building structure and adding color, shadow, and depth to the space. As original features, the arches and domes are part of the Moorish Revival style in which the synagogue was built. Inspired by the architecture of the Islamic Emirates of the Iberian Peninsula, Moorish Revival was the predominant style of synagogue architecture in Europe and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The arches and domes also adda sense of irony, as they are elements of an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, builtin a Moorish (Islamic) style of architecture by two German Catholic architects—practically New York in a nutshell!