Angel Orensanz Foundation

Art & Culture | History

Events Center & Foundation for the Arts Housed in 19th Century Synagogue

Angel Orensanz Foundation

About Angel Orensanz Foundation

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • The building may look humble on the outside, but its stunning interiors and extraordinary history have inspired everyone from Alexander McQueen to Maya Angelou to Elie Wiesel.
  •  Built in 1849 as a place of worship for congregation Anshe Chesed, it’s the oldest standing synagogue in New York City, and the first one built on the Lower East Side.
  • Reform-minded German Jews made up the original congregation. They hired the renowned German architect Alexander Saeltzer, who also designed the Astor Library, now the Public Theater on Lafayette Street.
    • Saeltzer based his design for 172 Norfolk on the magnificent Cathedral of Cologne, and the sanctuary was designed to replicate the Sistine Chapel.
    • Formally consecrated on May 16, 1850, the Foundation also describes the building as “the closest replica of the Temple of Solomon in the US.”
  • So, how did it become an arts foundation?
    • The synagogue discontinued services in 1974 and the building quickly fell into disrepair.
    • In 1986, the Spanish Jewish sculptor Angel Orensanz was strolling through the LES, looking for a place to establish his studio.
    • Orensanz bought and restored the building, and in 1986, opened it to the public for an exhibition of his new work.
    • It turned out to be a great space for artistic events. Since Orensanz’s original exhibition, millions of people – including Lou Reed, Philip Glass, Whitney Houston, Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, and Arthur Miller – have all gathered at 172 Norfolk for concerts, lectures, exhibitions, services, and celebrations.
  • You can still go to services in the building.
    • The Shul of New York holds Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services here.
    • It’s also available for weddings. In 1997, Sarah Jessica Parker and Mathew Broderick were married here.

By: Lucie Levine

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