'Open House' Unlocks Mix of East Side Religious and Cultural Institutions

By Mary Johnson on October 11, 2011 1:52pm 

The Brotherhood Synagogue has a basement tunnel that is said to have been part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
The Brotherhood Synagogue has a basement tunnel that is said to have been part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
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Open House New York

MANHATTAN — Multiple cultural institutions, residential buildings and houses of worship on Manhattan’s east side are opening their doors for Open House New York this weekend.

The event, now in its ninth year, unlocks venues around the city that are often closed to the public, giving New Yorkers and tourists a rare glimpse into some of Manhattan’s oldest and most beautiful structures.

Several scheduled tours have already filled to capacity—including those for more well-known destinations such as Grand Central Terminal and the United Nations. But many more buildings are still inviting visitors.

The Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy was built between 1857 and 1869 and was originally used as a Quaker meeting house, complete with a basement tunnel said to have been part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The present-day synagogue, located at Gramercy Park South and Irving Place, will be open on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

In Murray Hill, the Church of the Transfiguration will be open both Saturday and Sunday, giving visitors two days to take in its 14th-century stained glass and neo-Gothic Style. Built in 1848, the church, located at East 29th Street and Fifth Avenue, once provided sanctuary to African-Americans during the Civil War.

In addition to the religious institutions, Open House New York will include more modern structures, like the Ford Foundation on East 43rd Street between First and Second avenues.

The foundation’s building dates to 1967 and consists of 12 stories of glass framed in steel and granite and a full-height atrium.

To the west, at 505 Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street, stands a 26-story, glass-clad tower designed in collaboration with artist James Turrell, who helped turn the space into a three-dimensional light sculpture when it was built in 2005. That location will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday only.

The home of the Instituto Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

The institute, on East 49th Street between Second and Third avenues, is located on the site of Amster Yard, a collection of buildings surrounding a picturesque courtyard that once served as a cultural hub for New York City. The Instituto Cervantes took over the site and restored the landmark in 2002.

The Japan Society, on East 47th Street between First and Second avenues, and the Austrian Cultural Forum, at East 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue, will also open their doors this weekend, as will the Kips Bay Towers, a residential complex built in 1963 by I.M. Pei & Associates.

The complex was Pei’s first major project in New York City. Tours will be held on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information about the buildings featured throughout the Open House New York weekend, visit the event’s website.

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