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Bialystoker Developer Plans to Replace Jewish Heritage Mural

By Allegra Hobbs | December 28, 2016 5:29pm
 The Jewish heritage mural had graced the side of a Bialystoker office building since 1973.
The Jewish heritage mural had graced the side of a Bialystoker office building since 1973.
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Courtesy of CITYarts, Inc.

LOWER EAST SIDE — After the destruction of a beloved decades-old Jewish heritage mural prompted local outrage, the property's owner has teamed up with the arts group behind the original piece to craft a new mural that will reflect the neighborhood's diverse heritage.

The 43-year-old mural showcasing key moments in Jewish history was abruptly painted over in November in preparation for the demolition of the Bialystoker office building at 232 E. Broadway, which sits directly next to the shuttered Bialystoker Home for the Aged, angering residents who treasured the artwork. 

The Ascend Group plans to build two high-end condo towers on either side of the landmarked nursing home, and one will go up at the site of the demolished office building.

But after the initial backlash, the contrite developer is now collaborating with arts group CITYarts on an all-new neighborhood mural to replace the erased — one that will reflect the diverse nationalities that have historically occupied the Lower East Side.

"It will be more nationalities and backgrounds than just Jewish, because it's a different community now," said Tsipi Ben-Haim, executive and creative director of CITYarts, a group that partners local youth with professional artists to create public art, which created the original mural in 1973.

"It will be sort of bringing our families together and their heritage — after all, Jewish people cannot exist without Chinese food, right? Or Latin music, or Italian pizza. We need to think today, in the world we live in, in the global village — we have to reach out and build bridges."

The Ascend Group painted over the old mural primarily for safety reasons, explained President Robert Kaliner, who said the fresh coat of paint revealed cracks in the building that could have endangered builders as they installed scaffolding in preparation for the building's demolition in January.

But the group didn't understand the mural's importance to the surrounding community, said Kaliner — and now that they do, they have committed to helping facilitate its replacement.

"We're working collectively with them to try and do good, positive things for the neighborhood, to spark harmonious enjoyment of different cultures living together – we're trying to promote more of that instead of all the hate and violence in the world," said Kaliner.

The new mural may be on one of the new condo buildings once construction is complete, said Kaliner, though it is too early to know if there will be room for it. If there is no room, the Ascend Group will help lock down a new location for the mural, he said, and plans to provide financial assistance for the project as well.

A handful of locals who worked on the original mural as teens have already signed on to help paint the new one with their children and grandchildren, said Ben-Haim, who was unable to provide a timeline for the project.

The Ascend Group is currently working to form a committee with community members to help plan the new mural, said Kaliner. 

CITYarts has posted a sign outside the nursing home notifying residents of plans for a new mural, as first reported by The Lo-Down.

The developer, which property records show swiped up the Bialystoker property in November for $47.5 million, is planning to construct two residential towers on either side of the shuttered nursing home as part of a high-end condo development, Kaliner confirmed.

The group is in talks to potentially buy development rights from the neighboring Seward Park Co-op, which would impact the size and height of each tower, as first reported by The Lo-Down and confirmed by Kaliner.