Filmmaker Describes Growing Up in Former Synagogue, Factory and Distillery

By Serena Solomon on March 14, 2014 9:20am 

LOWER EAST SIDE — Imagine growing up in an old synagogue that also once served as a whiskey distillery and a raincoat factory.

Filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski spent his childhood in 70 Hester St., a building that has been all of those things.

In his new short documentary "70 Hester Street," which is debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, Nozkowski reflects on his childhood home, where his parents lived for more than 40 years before being forced out.

"It is a meditation on the history of the building, what it is like to leave a building and the nature of childhood homes in general," said Nozkowski, 37. "I feel lucky that my childhood home continues to exist."

Nozkowski started shooting the film in 2012 as the owners of 70 Hester St., which was built in the 1880s, began to talk of selling it. That June, his parents returned home to find an eviction notice on their door ahead of the new owners taking over.

"The building was crying out to be filmed. It demanded it," Nozkowski said.

The building sold for almost $4 million in December 2012 and is now being renovated as a gallery, retail and cafe space set to open later this year.

The 10-minute film captures the family's two-story living space as Nozkowski remembers it — a giant stained glass Star of David, the old U-shaped women's seating area and hooks that remain from hanging raincoats. He described the documentary as "dreamy," using interviews with his parents as narration over footage of his former home.

"When I was growing up as a kid, I thought, 'No one has a home like mine,'" said Nozkowski, who now lives in Cobble Hill, but often rides his bike down Hester Street to check on it.

He moved out after college in 1998, but his parents stayed on until December 2012. They now live upstate.

When the building sold, Nozkowski said he was sure it would be knocked down for condos. Its reuse came as a nice surprise, and an epilogue on 70 Hester St.'s next chapter was added to the film.

70 Hester Street
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Casimir Nozkowski

"I am looking forward to going to that cafe, buying a muffin and tripping out that I grew up there," he said.

The schedule for Tribeca Film Festival and for "70 Hester Street" will be released in the next few weeks.

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