The Brotherhood in Action was a community improvement group that sought peace and involvement between different religions and social agencies. The group was headed by Justice George J. Beldock, Presiding Judge of the Appellate Division, Second Department who served as the honorary president and Charles H. Tuttle, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Little is known about the group today, only that they were dedicated to idea that peaceful exchange of ideas would drastically improve the lives of all Americans.
The Brotherhood bought the land at 560 Seventh Ave. in 1946 and proceeded to spend the next fifteen years privately raising enough money for a synagogue and cultural center to be built on site. Many people in New York City got involved with the project by donating their time. William Kaufman volunteered to head the real estate deal and be the construction supervisor. Kaufman was a well know building contractor and real estate agent who started his own company, The William Kaufman Organization, Ltd. in 1924, which still exists today as one of the major family owned real estate agencies in the nation.
Kaufman sought out William Lescaze as the architect for the building and in 1959 Lescaze presented the first design. Originally the building was supposed to be three stories. The first floor would have held a synagogue large enough to seat three hundred; the second floor was designed as a meeting room for four hundred people; and the other floors would have included seminar rooms, administrative offices and a library. In 1960, a building permit was filed in New York reflecting this three story design and lists the cost of the project at $750,000.
It is not known when the plans changed, but the final design was a six story building which included all the above facilities. This may be due to the fact that the Brotherhood in Action collected over $3,000,000 for construction and maintenance of their building and decided to expand the project to a six story building. As well as the four hundred seat auditorium, a three hundred seat synagogue, library, meeting rooms and offices, the building now included a radio-television studio. Construction began on September 12, 1962 and was finished by July 1963. The entrance to the Garment Center Synagogue was placed on the first floor in the north west corner of the building at 205 West 40th St.
The building is located in the relatively flat area of the Garment District in Manhattan. The small podium that the building rests on shows the slight slope to the south-east, as the entrance to the synagogue and the entrance to the school are on different elevations. The building is six stories, with a basement, in a rectangular shape approximately 74 feet by 106 feet. The entrance to the school has an unfinished granite covered porch three steps above street level that is used to access the main lobby. Bushes also surround the porch to provide privacy for those sitting on the benches outside the building. Laterally the building is broken up into sections, each approximately twenty-five feet wide, therefore including three sections on the front and five on the side. The steel frame of the building can be seen on the outside in between the first and second floor, above the sixth floor, along each corner, and between each of the buildings’ sections. All of the sections from the second floor and up are covered with different sized cut limestone sections except the section above the school entrance. This section has six floor-to-ceiling windows on floors two, three, four and five with limestone sections covering the floor space in between. The sixth floor does not have any windows, only the same limestone sections that are found in between the floors, eighteen sections in all. On the first floor, all of the sections are covered with polished black granite except those that hold the entrances to the synagogue and the school. The school entrance has two glass double doors with bronze handles on either side of a center revolving door. The whole façade of this section of the building is glass. The entrance to the synagogue is located at street level but is recessed back about three feet into the building. There are two sets of two glass double doors on either side of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, between which a small atrium separates the space. A flat rectangular awning, which is tied back to the wall on both sides, covers the doorway even though it is already recessed.
September 1962 – July 1963
Parson’s The New School for Design is located on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 40th Street just south of Times Square. Technically the property lies in the neighborhoods of Times Square and Mid-town West, but it is most closely related to the Fashion District, also known as the Garment District. The Fashion District runs from north to south between 42th St. and 34nd St. and from east to west between Fifth and Ninth Avenues. Beginning in the late 1800s, when the sewing machine became of use, the Garment District took off as the country’s leading clothing maker and by 1900 became the area of New York’s largest industry. As a result most buildings in the area were built either as fashion showrooms, factories, studios, or shops. Along with the diversity of the clothing being produced, the styles of these buildings also varied. Some buildings in the area are Italian Renaissance, other neo-Grec or Art Deco. Now a wide variety of businesses, law offices, even architecture firms house the eclectic buildings of the Fashion District in Mid-town West.
In the late 50s and early 60s Lescaze was moving towards a more minimalist aesthetic. He put an increasing emphasis on the skeletal structure, volumetric simplicity and symmetry. Lescaze drew from his own PSFS Building, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier for the Brotherhood House. The building was designed to show its straightforwardness in functional design and usable materials. This simplicity reflects the desired purpose of the building, to bring people of different religions and creed together in a place where they can “meet, exchange ideas and develop programs of social action without interference” (New York Times, 1962). As a cultural center, the Brotherhood House aimed to bring an end to the “social and racial tensions” that were hugely present in the mid-twentieth century. This idea of simplicity and calm bridges both Lescazes’ design and the Brotherhood intended purpose.
Many aspects of this building show that it is clearly part of the Modernist Movement. Lescaze’s use of shapes, most specifically rectangles, and skeletal structural framing are clearly a draw from modernism, as well as his use of curtain walls, a structural element regularly used in modernist buildings. The façade is unornamented; limestone, glass, granite and the steel frame are the only materials seen on the outside. Another clear element is the play on volumetric simplicity; the building seems light even though there are few windows on the façade.
The Brotherhood House did not exhibit any new architectural elements; it was a simple modernist design that was never really recognized as an extraordinary modernist building. In reality it was seen as a derivative from Lescaze’s early work in the International style, specifically his PSFS Building in Philadelphia.
While the building may not have been seen as extraordinary, it was certainly seen as exemplary in the architecture trends of the time. All elements derive from Modernism and therefore should be preserved on the basis of its’ representation of design, engineering, and social feelings of the time. Most of Lescaze’s work was done on small office buildings and townhouses, most importantly the Lascaze House on West 48th St., and the variety of his work should not be lost.
Hubert, Christian and Lindsay Stamm. William Lescaze. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1982.
Lanmon, Lorraine Welling. William Lescaze, Architect. New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc. 1987
“Synagogue Started in Garment Area.” The New York Times. 12 April 1962. Pg. 58.
“New Center Here Will Provide Free Space for Social Agencies.” The New York Times. 12 Sep. 1962. Pg. 31.
Handler, M.S. “Brotherhood House for Social Agencies is Dedicated in City.” The New York Times. 13 sep. 1962. Pg. 38
“560 Seventh Ave.” Property Shark. Web. 15 Nov 2010. http://www.propertyshark.com/mason/ .
“560 Seventh Ave.” NYC Government: Department of Buildings. Web. 15 Nov 2010. http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/PropertyProfileOverviewServlet?boro=1&... .