Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sanitary Closets and the Old Broadway Synagogue

Not exactly two concepts that you would expect to see in the same title but there is a connection. On August 5, 2007, in his New York Times Streetscapes column, Christopher Gray answered a reader's question about those odd metal bins that are found under kitchen windows in prewar New York City buildings. It turns out that those cast iron metal bins were "sanitary garbage closets," used for storing refuse in summer when it was hot and the garbage would start to smell. One could put the garbage in the sanitary closet, which was ventilated, until it was time take it out. These devices went out of fashion by the end of World War I, and remain as curiosities in some old, unrenovated apartments.

In Christopher Gray's column, he reproduced an ad that was placed by the Montauk Sanitary Improvement Company, which was promoting its product, the "C.S.R. Sanitary Garbage Closet." When I read the article, I looked at the ad, and took a double take when I saw the address of the Montauk Sanitary Improvement Company. It was 15 Old Broadway, the address of our shul today. We knew that there had been a house on the lot when shul stands (what appears to be a two story house with a balcony is visible in a very poor quality 1912 photo of that area in the New York Times) and we even know the name of the person who sold it to the congregation in the early 1920s, but until the article about the sanitary closet, that was about all we knew. And now we know more. Although it is hard to think of 15 Old Broadway as anything other than the Old Broadway Synagogue, the area has been occupied for centuries. Old Broadway gets its name from the fact that it was the original path of Broadway before the modern boulevard of Broadway, as laid out in the 1811 City Plan, was extended to the neighborhood. Indeed, the village of Manhattanville has existed at least since 1807, and perhaps even earlier. In addition to the spirits of those who attended our shul and who are no longer with us, one wonders about those who preceded us. Are their spirits around somewhere as well?
Click here to go to an advertisement for the sanitary closets in one of the Quarterly Bulletins of the American Institute of Architects from 1908.

1 comment:

  1. Cholent review:
    "Holy cholent, dish celestial,
    Daughter of Elysium:
    If he'd only tasted cholent,
    Schiller would have changed his hymn.

    G-d devised and G-d delivered
    Unto Moses from on high,
    and commanded us to savor
    Cholent for eternity."--Heinrich Heine