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“At the same time,” Ambrose said, “the board has a fiduciary responsibility to raise the necessary capital to honor its obligation to another incredibly deserving community — the Bialystoker Center’s 115 union employees. One hundred of these former employees are members of 1199, the United Healthcare Workers union, and continue to wait for payment of back wages, benefits and pension funds.”
Board members have avoided the press since the meeting, and refused to respond to requests from the Forward for comment.
At stake is the future of what many local historians regard as an invaluable relic. Originally founded in 1929 by natives of Bialystok, Poland, as a nursing home and community center, the Bialystoker was a vital oasis for Jewish immigrants in the neighborhood throughout the 20th century, serving countless refugees and survivors of the Shoah.
“When I needed them, they were there,” said Sam Solasz, who first visited the center in 1951, days after he arrived in New York from a displaced persons camp in Europe, carrying no more than $10 in his pocket. Though he didn’t stay for long, Solasz says he never outgrew his gratitude for the Bialystoker. Later in life, as he found success running a meat distribution business in the Bronx, Solasz served as the board’s president, making donations for various projects in the building’s upkeep, and overseeing fundraising events that featured big name Jewish entertainers, including Jackie Mason and Alan King.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to make a decision in the next few months. In addition to Chin, the list of public officials who support landmarking the building now includes Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, as well as descendants of the building’s architect, Harry Hurwit, and its co-founder, David Sohn.
Ron Castellano, an architect who worked on an adaptive reuse of other historic buildings on the Lower East Side (including the original home of The Jewish Daily Forward), has pointed out that few buildings in New York City besides skyscrapers feature terraced setbacks like the Bialystoker’s.
“If you’re buying this building, you’re going to be buying a design sensibility from the 1920s,” he told the Forward. “There’s not another building like it. You can try to copy things, but you’re never going to get that look.”
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