Temple Emanu-El was established in 1845 as New York City’s first Reform congregation. 33 members met in a loft at the intersection of Clinton and Grand Streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As the congregation grew, Emanu-El moved further and further uptown. In 1854, it moved to its third location at 110 East 12th Street, which later housed St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, seen in this 1914 photograph.
By 1868, the congregation had built a permanent structure on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, designed by Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Fernbach. At that time, Temple Emanu-El was the largest synagogue building in the United States. This photograph was taken around 1900.
Much fanfare surrounded its consecration on September 11, 1868. The following day, The New York Times reported that a limited number of tickets available for the ceremony sold out several days in advance. “The anxiety to secure them was very great. When the doors were opened there was a crushing and crowding in which ladies’ crinoline and gentlemen’s hats suffered severely.” This photograph of the interior of the temple was taken around 1900.
The tranquil neighborhood was an ideal location for the temple, showcased in this 1904 lithograph and in the photograph taken around 1900.
Over time, however, the neighborhood became increasingly commercial and Temple Emanu-El was unable to expand to accommodate its growing membership, as seen in this 1923 photograph and the etching below from 1926.
In 1925, Temple Emanu-El sold the building and purchased property at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street, the site of the John Jacob Astor mansion. This photograph shows the property in 1926, shortly before it was torn down.
In 1927, the building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street was demolished, and the neighborhood became a commercial district. Here is a photo of the location in 1936.
Construction of the new temple at the site of the Astor mansion began in 1927 and would last two years. Architects Robert D. Kohn, Charles Butler, and Clarence Stein designed the building. This photograph shows the progress in 1928.
In the meantime, services were held 11 blocks uptown at Temple Beth-El, another Reform synagogue. Temple Beth-El was founded in 1874 and had occupied the space on Fifth Avenue and 76th Street since 1891. Temple Beth-El and Temple Emanu-El merged in 1927, although services continued to be held at Temple Beth-El until 1946. That building was demolished in 1947.
On January 10, 1930, 2,500 people attended Temple Emanu-El’s formal dedication at 1 East 65th Street, where it remains to this day. For more information about Emanu-El, please visit http://www.emanuelnyc.org/