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Historic LES Synagogue to Become Cafe and Gallery by Year's End

By Serena Solomon | October 10, 2013 8:48am
 First Roumanian-American Congregation is undergoing renovations that could be completed by December.
First Roumanian-American Congregation
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LOWER EAST SIDE — A former synagogue that was sold last year is just months away from reopening as a gallery, cafe and retail space, according to the architect.

Workers are in the process of renovating the First Roumanian-American Congregation building at 70 Hester St., which hasn't been used in decades, to turn the aging building into a space that will serve the neighborhood's new, younger residents, architect Carlo Enzo Frugiuele said.

If all goes well with Department of Buildings permits, the 5,000-square-foot space could be completed by December, Frugiuele said, speaking on behalf of the building owner.

"It really was a decrepit, falling apart building and the question was, 'How can we restore what is left here and also add something that matches its contemporary users?'" said Frugiuele, from Urban Office Architecture.

"You could see the essence of the space, but the details were gone. I think we got here at just the right time," he added.

Built in 1860, the building was most recently the home of the artists Thomas Nozkowski and Joyce Robins, who rented the space starting in 1967 for about $1,100 a month, according to a New York Times article on the building's sale.

The new design will maintain the building's three levels, plus its mezzanine. The retail space will be located in the basement, a few steps below Hester Street, and the first floor will be an "ultra modern" cafe space with seating for 69 people, according to Frugiuele.

"The cafe will have a glass front that can be opened in the summertime so the patrons can enjoy the breeze and look outside," he said.

The second floor and mezzanine will be reserved for a gallery space that will include a bridge between the levels, made partly of glass.

"The philosophy behind the design is enhancing what is there naturally, but bringing it up to code," Frugiuele said. "We will be giving it a new identity without taking away from the history."

The two-story gallery, which is about 2,300 square feet, is already on the market with an asking price of $14,500 per month, according to a listing with Town Real Estate.

It's not clear yet whether one company will operate the gallery, cafe and retail space together or whether they will be run separately, Frugiuele said.

"We have had a few requests," he said.

CSC Landscape Holdings bought the building from Pearl Fiefer Goldman in October 2012, according to Department of Finance records.

The building had an asking price of $3,999,999, and Brown Harris Stevens handled the transaction, according to a New York Times article.

Brown Harris Stevens did not immediately return a call for comment.