elegant, limestone-clad structure of Temple Emanu-El is the largest synagogue in the
Rather austere and very imposing, its mammoth bulk is graced with
a large, handsome tower at its rear in the middle of the cross-street.
Its large congregation is among the most influential in New York
and it is the largest Reform congregation in the United States
as well as the oldest in the city.
Construction began in 1927 when Emanu-El merged with Congregation
Beth El, which had been located further up Fifth Avenue. Emanu-El
had occupied a Moorish-style building on Fifth Avenue and 43rd
Street that had been designed by Leopold Eidlitz, "a vivid
combination of Viollet-le-Duc's structural theories and Saracenic
ornament," according to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin
and Thomas Mellins in their great book, "New York 1930, Architecture
and Urbanism between the Two World Wars," (Rizzoli International,
This structure replaced
the double-wide mansion designed by Richard Morris Hunt for Mrs.
Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, the famous socialite, and completed
in 1895. The present building, which was completed in 1929, was
designed by Robert D. Kohn, Clarence Stein and Charles Butler
in an Art Deco-interpretation of Moorish and Romanesque styles.
The new building incorporated some Tiffany windows from the 43rd
Street building and new windows by Oliver Smith and the Nicola
Authors Stern, Gilmartin
and Mellins provide the following commentary on Temple Emanu-El:
"In its size, prominence,
and lavish materials, the new temple was clearly intended to view
with the major cathedrals - St. Patrick's and St. John the Divine
- as the city's preeminent Jewish landmark. Indeed Kenneth Murchison
reported that the new temple left its beholders 'speechless at
the beauty and majesty of its structure.' 'We felt ourselves free
in choice of detail with which to ornament the structural form,'
Clarence Stein confided in 1930. Not surprisingly, Stein, formerly
a close associate of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and his collaborators,
decided to develop the design 'from the Romanesque as used in
the south of Italy under the influence of the Moorish, because
it was an expression of the intermingling of Occidental and Oriental
thought. We might just as well have started with some other style,
as the detail gradually developed into new forms and certainly
new scale in the drafting room and in the sculptor's studio. Above
all it was scale that governed our form. Because the site abutted
an apartment house then under construction, it was felt 'a single
great motif of composition and a great expanse of plain wall surface
would distinguish the mass from the innumerable beehive holes
and cut-up surfaces of the adjoining apartments.' The massing
strategy was typical of that evolved by Goodhue and others in
the Composite Era....North of the auditorium a low chapel was
set back for Fifth Avenue to provide a small plot of greenery
and divorce the auditorium from the adjoining apartment house.
The main facade was dominated by a gabled front flanked by stair
towers, and a huge recessed arch sheltered a rose window and three
The large and handsome sanctuary,
which is 147 feet long, 77 feet wide and 103 feet high, can seat
2,500 persons. The congregation began with 33 members in rented
space at Clinton and Grand Streets in 1845 and moved three years
later to a new facility on Chrystie Street and in 1854 to the
Twelve Street Baptist Church at 120 East 12th Street, which is
now the St. Ann's Armenian Catholic church. The Emanu-El congregation
moved to Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in 1868 were "the first
permanent English-speaking rabbi, Gustave Gottheil, was installed,
according to David Dunlap in his excellent book, "Glory in
Gotham, Manhattan's Houses of Worship" (a City & Company
Guide, 2001, see The City Review article).
"Emanu-El had only two senior rabbis: Nathan Perlman and
Ronald Sobel. Its longtime cantor, Howard Nevison, was the first
cantor to sing at the Vatican," Mr. Dunlap wrote.
This complex also contains
the Beth-El Chapel, which can seat up to 350 people, and a six-story
community house and religious school.
The Fifth Avenue fašade is graced by a large circular window
with 12 spokes that represent the twelve tribes of Israel, whose
symbols are also represented on the three sets of bronze entrance
doors. According to an article ( http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/medny/fernandez.html)
by Gerard Fernandez, the associate architects for this structure
were Mayers, Murray and Phillip.
The synagogue are available and it is open every day from 10 AM
to 5 PM with services at 5:30 PM and Sabbath services at 5:15
PM Fridays, which are broadcast on WQXR, the radio station of
The New York Times, and 10:30 AM Saturdays.
The synagogue is in an historical district and is at the Fifth
Avenue exit of the 65th Street Transverse Road through Central