On March 27, 1927, Park Avenue Synagogue dedicated its new sanctuary on East 87th Street. Mayor Jimmy Walker attended, as did The Right Rev. William T. Manning, the Episcopal bishop of New York City, and N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Thomas C. T. Crain. During the formal ceremonies, The New York Times reported, the chairman of the synagogue’s board of trustees, Maurice E. Bloch, accepted “an American flag presented by children of the Sunday School.”
The grand Moorish structure, The Times noted, “cost $1,000,000” (about $15 million today, adjusted for inflation).
Ninety-two years later, that same sanctuary was the site of another dedication, both a little grander and with a much higher price tag: On Sunday, Park Avenue Synagogue celebrated its latest expansion and renovation, made possible by a capital campaign that raised $96 million.
The multimedia ceremony marked a makeover of the building that now runs along 87th Street to the corner of Madison Avenue, sprucing up the 1980 design with new chapels, meeting rooms and event spaces, and a renovated early childhood center. Nearby, around the corner on 89th Street, is the Eli M. Black Lifelong Learning Center, completed in 2017, which houses the congregational schools and other social spaces.
Before the expansion, according to the event program, the 1,700-family Conservative congregation was “bursting at the seams.” A six-year fundraising campaign led by a number of bold-face names — including Ralph and Ricky Lauren, John and Susan Hess, Debra and Leon Black and Jackie and David Simon — got buy-in from 97 percent of the members.
The ceremony in a packed sanctuary — with ushers costumed in vintage swallowtail coats and bustled dresses, a reference to the synagogue’s founding in 1882 — was as much about continuity as change. In his remarks, Rabbi Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove quoted Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, who spoke of “making the old new, and the new sacred.” The theme is incorporated into the redesign of the 87th Street building, which includes panels from stained glass windows designed by abstract impressionist Adolph Gottlieb and originally installed in an earlier expansion in 1954.
Lay leaders and staff lit candles dedicated to the synagogue’s core values, including peoplehood, worship, social action and Zionism. Cantor Azi Schwartz led the singing of a song, “Home,” written by Noah Aronson and Abigail Pogrebin for the occasion. John Hess, honorary co-chair of the capital campaign, sliced a blue ribbon with a giant pair of shears.
“It was critical that throughout the development of the new campus the buildings continued to reflect our commitment to tradition and change,” Cosgrove said in a statement. “The success of PAS is not just about our physical architecture, it’s about our spiritual architecture — a community that meets people where they are and inspires them to journey to where they aspire to be.”