Willett Street is yet another one of those streets on the Lower Easy Side that has been truncated to a version much shorter than it once was. These days it runs for a scant block from Grand Street north to Delancey, but before the Samuel Gompers Houses were built in 1964 it ran all the way north to Stanton, which itself was eliminated here decades ago in favor of public housing. Older Hagstroms had just one “t” in Willett, but that’s been corrected in later editions, as the honoree, Marinus Willett, had two “t”s. Willett was a pre-Revolutionary cabinetmaker and sheriff, who later became NYC mayor in 1807 and was, in the post-Revolutionary era, a prominent landowner. A now-vanished adjoining street (Sheriff Street) was also named for him. Since 1987, Willett has had to share street sign space with Bialystoker Place, named for the major edifice on the remaining piece of the street…
Like many churches and synagogues in the Lower East Side this is a very old building that has been repurposed over time. It was built in 1826 as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Manhattan schist, also a favorite material for church buildings in the neighborhood.
In 1905, our congregation, at that time composed chiefly of Polish immigrants from the province of Bialystok, purchased the building to serve as our synagogue. During the Great Depression, a decision was made to beautify the main sanctuary, to provide a sense of hope and inspiration to the community. The synagogue was listed as a New York City landmark on April 19, 1966. It is one of only four early-19th century fieldstone religious buildings surviving from the late Federal period inLower Manhattan. Richard McBee and Dodi-Lee Hecht have both written in-depth articles about the building. [many interior photos of the building can be seen at the link]
In 1988 the Synagogue restored the interior to its original facade, and the former Hebrew school building was renovated and reopened as The Daniel Potkorony Building. It is currently used for many educational activities. Our most recent project was the refurbishing of our windows. The Bialystoker Synagogue