Cracked Beams Prompt Synagogue Evacuation Amid Celeb Fundraiser, FDNY Says

By Aidan Gardiner and Gustavo Solis  on April 1, 2014 8:48am

 The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts at 172. Norfolk St.
The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts at 172. Norfolk St.
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Facebook/angelorensanzfoundation

MANHATTAN — A star-studded fundraiser in a historic former synagogue was cut short Monday evening when wooden beams cracked and shook the floor there, prompting firefighters to evacuate about 500 people from the building, officials said.

The fundraiser at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts at 172 Norfolk St. — which was supposed to raise money for theater company the SoHo Rep. — ended shortly after the opening cocktail hour at 7:30 p.m. when firefighters rushed everyone out, according to the event program and an FDNY spokesman.

The event inside the 165-year-old building was due to feature Gretchen Mol, of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," Marisa Tomei and musician Steve Earle, according to the event program.

Firefighters had originally responded to a minor smoke condition caused by some approved cooking equipment there, but once they brought that under control, party-goers said that they had felt the building's mezzanine shaking, an FDNY spokesman said.

The firefighters discovered that the wooden beams running laterally under the floor boards had cracked and evacuated about 500 people from the former house of worship, the FDNY said.

No one was injured, the FDNY said.

After being evacuated, many of the patrons moved the party to a school yard across the street, said people familiar with the event.

The Buildings Department responded to reports of an unstable balcony and found vertical cracks in the support beams on both the first and second floors of the building, a spokeswoman said.

"An inspection by the Department showed vertical cracks in the floor joist on both the first and second floors," the spokeswoman wrote. "The Department issued a full vacate order and an ECB violation for failure to maintain the building. In order to lift the vacate order, the property owner must obtain permits and make repairs."

When the building opened in 1849, it was the largest synagogue in the United States and home to the Russian congregation Anshe Slonim from 1921 to 1974, according to their website.

 172 Norfolk St. was evacuated during a celebrity fundraiser when wooden beams there cracked Monday evening, the FDNY said.
172 Norfolk St. was evacuated during a celebrity fundraiser when wooden beams there cracked Monday evening, the FDNY said.
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Facebook/angelorensanzfoundation

After the congregation left, the building was abandoned until Spanish sculptor, Angel Orensanz, bought the building and renovated it in 1986.

It’s currently used mainly as an event venue, hosting concerts, weddings, lectures, and fundraisers.

A representative from the Angel Orensanz Foundation declined to comment.

"The Foundation prides itself in maintaining the building at 172 Norfolk St.," according their website.

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