Little Persia on 73rd Street


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A growing Jewish congregation made up of refugees from Iran and their families is developing a new spiritual home in two buildings on “Carriage House Row”


Photos



  • A preliminary rendering of the Persian Jewish Center of Manhattan, which will open by 2022 on East 73rd Street between Third and Lexington Avenues on the site of a landmark 1906 parking garage. Rendering: OMA / NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission




  • The landmark 1906 Beaux-Arts parking garage on East 73rd Street between Third and Lexington Avenues that is being converted into the new home of the Persian Jewish Center of Manhattan. Photo: Douglas Feiden



“We have been trying to build our own community synagogue for nearly 30 years.”

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen



It was 1979, and the Shah of Iran had been ousted in the revolutionary furies unleashed by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Propelled by the collapse of the Peacock Throne, thousands of Jewish families whose roots in Iran went back centuries fled their homes.

Most of the exiles settled in America, and in Brooklyn and Beverly Hills, Queens and Great Neck, they reinvented their lives.

A much smaller number found their footing in the apartment buildings and townhouses of the Upper East Side, mostly in the East 60s and 70s.

But unlike their cohort in California, Nassau County and Brooklyn, they never developed the critical mass to build synagogues and community centers in the neighborhood where they reside.

Now, exactly 40 years after the eruption of the Islamic Revolution, that is about to change.

The Persian Jewish Center of Manhattan has bought two landmark buildings on East 73rd Street between Third and Lexington Avenues, a block known as “Stable Row,” or “Carriage House Row,” because of its century-old history as a base for the horse-drawn livery business.

It plans to convert the five-story, 1906 Beaux-Arts parking garage at 177-179 East 73rd St., and the three-story, 1860 Italianate-style rowhouse at 175 East 73rd St., into a religious sanctuary and social hall, according to proposals filed with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

LPC has already approved exterior renovation plans. Approvals are still pending from the city’s Dept. of Buildings and City Planning Dept., and once they’re secured, the synagogue could open its doors by 2021 or 2022.

The move will be transformative for what has become a booming congregation: Ever since it established its own minyan in 1986, it has been renting a small sanctuary for Shabbat services in the Park East Synagogue at 163 East 67th St.

Now, amid growing pains, and after 33 years as a tenant, it will finally hold title to its own space.

“We would not have survived” without Park East, said Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, who has headed the Persian Jewish Center since 2009. “We are grateful to them. We will miss their friendship and support. But we need to move on.”

In an emailed response to questions, Rosen said the premises the shul rents are “no longer suitable for our needs as we have been growing in recent years.”

“Part of this is through natural/organic growth and part is because more Persians have been moving into Manhattan from Great Neck,” he added. It is a trend that appears to be increasing,” he said.

From Tehran with love

The purchase is being bankrolled by Joseph Moinian, a philanthropist and developer who was born in Tehran and relocated to the city in the early 1970s, several years before the exodus that followed the fall of the Shah.

He is the founder and CEO of the Moinian Group, a property development firm that has been active downtown and in the Hudson Yards.

Aron Kirsch, senior vice president of development at Moinian, didn’t return calls.

But property records filed with the city show that a company called 177 East 73rd JM LLC, which lists Moinian as its “sole member and managing member,” shelled out $25 million to purchase the garage in Nov. 2017.

Then on Jan. 18 this year, 175 East 73rd Owner LLC, a buyer listed as “care of the Moinian Group” spent another $9 million to buy the old townhouse.

The combined $34 million purchase price doesn’t include the tab to convert the properties into a religious and communal center. The renovation will maintain the exterior appearance of the two facades as separate structures, though they will function internally as a single building.

“We have been trying to build our own community synagogue for nearly 30 years, and only now thanks to Mr. Joe Moinian, have we been able to acquire suitable premises on the Upper East Side where most of our congregants live,” Rosen said.

The term “Carriage House Row” dates from the street’s history as a place where low-lying stables, garages, chauffeur’s residences and private carriage houses were built to serve the uber-wealthy who lived a couple of blocks away on Park or Fifth Avenues.

Many of those buildings survive today, and there is a cluster of 15 separate individual landmarks on that single block.

“The garages were built on streets that were convenient to the East Side mansions — but not so close that their noises and smells would mar the exclusive character of the residential streets,” the LPC wrote in its designation report for 177-179 East 73rd St.

The building is considered to be among the earliest purpose-built car garages ever erected in the city, according to Friends of the Upper East Side, a preservation group.

“Both the restorative measures and proposed new design features, such as the charming Persian-inspired entry door design, display a high-level of stewardship towards the Beaux-Arts monumentality of the garage building,” said Sara Kamillatos, a preservation associate at the Friends group.

“We hope that the new tenants’ care and consideration can be a model for future adaptive re-use of individual landmarks and buildings within the historic districts around the Upper East Side,” she added.

Meanwhile, Rosen is anticipating that many Persian Jews who joined other Sephardic synagogues in Manhattan because his community lacked a permanent home will soon return to the fold:

“Now, with our own facilities, and much larger and appropriate opportunities for religious and social activities, we expect some of them to join us and to grow significantly in our new premises,” he said.

invreporter@strausnews.com






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