Located at 27-35 Crescent Street, the Astoria Center of Israel is on the east side of the street between Newtown and 30th Avenues in the Astoria neighborhood of the borough of Queens in New York City. The Astoria Center was built in 1925-26 to designs by architect Louis Allen Abramson. The synagogue is also known for its interior decoration, a series of murals by French artist Louis Rigal commissioned by the congregation in 1929. The Astoria Center of Israel is an early surviving Queens Synagogue and religious center, and continues to function as such. Its design is typical of 1920 American synagogues, combining classical detailing with Judaic symbols.
The synagogue is a two-story building faced in Flemish-bond striated red brick with faux limestone cast-stone trim and a masonry foundation. Its facade is designed as a modified temple front with six double-height flat Ionic piers that support an architrave in which the frieze is inscribed with the synagogue’s name. Over this is a balustrade of short stone pilasters interspersed with urn shaped stone balusters.
The exterior of the building is divided by piers into five bays, with the center bay being the building’s principal entrance. On the first story, the center bay has a round-arched cast-stone entryway, approached by several gray granite steps. The wooden double doors are recessed and are topped by a lunette with a simple Magen David in its center. Each door has a series of four square panels, three of which are adorned with Jewish symbols, e.g. a menorah, a Kiddush cup, and a pair of hands making the blessing of the kohanim. The door frame is flanked on either side by a simple metal light fixture. Over the door frame is an ornamental cartouche with a scroll extending on either side. Within the cartouche is a Magen David. Each of the two bays on either side has one round-arched window with leaded glass adorned with multi-colored geometric patterns. Each window has a Magen David in the upper sash. A cornerstone at the south end is inscribed “1925 – 5686 – Astoria Center of Israel.” On the second story, each bay is occupied by a tripartite window.
The coved lobby ceiling is adorned with an elaborate painting by Louis Rigal. Its symmetrical design is based on spiral forms sprouting leafy branches. A chandelier hangs from its center.
On the north side of the building is a narrow rectangular space used as a chapel. It is lit by leaded glass windows similar to those on the front facade in the building’s north elevation. The style suggests English Tudor influence, as evidenced by a beamed ceiling, plaster walls and a paneled wooden ark (home for the Torah scrolls). The ark’s two doors are each adorned with the silhouette of a lion, one sitting above a Magen David over which is superimposed a menorah. The other is sitting above a Magen David over which is superimposed the image of two hands making the blessing of the Kohanim. A broken pediment atop the ark encloses the two tablets of the Law. The wall behind the ark is also paneled. Two small ornamental metal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are adorned with grape clusters and Magen David forms. The entrance doors include narrow leaded glass windows each with a roundel. One of the roundels shows a menorah, the other a Torah scroll.
The Main Sanctuary
The main sanctuary is a large, two-story tall, roughly square-room with a rear balcony, plaster walls and an elaborate plaster beamed ceiling. The main sanctuary has three tall, almost floor-to-ceiling leaded glass windows on either side of the ark in a front area, recessed behind a proscenium arch. The focal point of the recess is an elaborate ark that is set against a tripartite Palladian-style window. Three windows on either side of the sanctuary are filled with ornamental polychromatic leaded glass.
Each window is set within a round arch and flanked on either side by a fluted pilaster rising to an orate capital that appears to support the ceiling. Each window features a Magen David inscribed within a circle in its uppermost part and small rectangular memorial panels below. The rest of the glass is set in geometric shapes.
At the rear of the sanctuary, the balcony is flanked by enclosed areas containing staircases. The walls of these areas facing into the sanctuary each include an arch with ornament painted by Louis Pierre Rigal that mimics the round-arched windows on the adjoining side walls. Each of these painted arches encloses a Hebrew inscription above a large memorial plaque. The balcony rail is adorned with a Rigal painting combining stylized olive clusters and branches with a centrally placed menorah.
At the front of the sanctuary, plain wall surfaces are on either side, each with a doorway and two narrow arched windows above that flank the central proscenium arch leading to the ark. These plain wall surfaces mirror the opposite enclosed stairwells flanking the rear balcony. The proscenium arch itself is adorned with the most elaborate of the Rigal paintings.
On the north side (the left, facing the wall), the painting depicts a lion and a deer rearing up on their hind legs and facing each other. The south (right) side depicts a leopard and an eagle in a similar position. Below each set of figures is a painted base with olive clusters and branches surrounding a stylized Magen David. Above each set of figures, a stylized pattern of branches and olives rising on either side meet at the apex of the arch in the figure of a dove.
The area behind the arch has a wall on either side, also covered with an ornamental painting. The rear wall is largely taken up by a large Palladian-style window arrangement of one large round-arched window in the center flanked by a shorter, narrower arched window on either side. The band framing the triple-arched windows is painted with decorative forms.
The ark itself is an aedicular form in scagliola (faux marble). A pair of pilasters on either side supports an entablature with a frieze that has panels inscribed with a Magen David. Over this rises an elaborate broken pediment. Between the scrolled ends sits a representation of the tablets of the Law, inscribed with the Hebrew words representing the Ten Commandments. The leaded glass windows behind it include a representation of the same tablets. The metal doors of the Ark are inscribed with various Jewish symbols. In front of the Ark to either side are two bronze lamp stands in the shape of a menorah. There is is also an ornamental wooden pulpit that, along with the wooden pews in the sanctuary, was added in 1940. In the ceiling above the ark is an ornamental metal grille admitting daylight.
The sanctuary’s ceiling is divided into fifteen enormous square panels with Rigal paintings of repeating designs.
Some of the panels are relatively plain, with a border of geometric patterns and curlicues and a similar pattern decorates a band that runs along the rear walls just where it meets the ceiling. Other bands have elaborate symmetrical patterns based on floral forms and still others repeat the paired figures of lion/deer and leopard/eagle, here forming an “X” with interstices filled with olive. branches.
Classrooms & Social Hall
Remaining interior spaces include classrooms on the second floor that are located at the west end of the building, above the lobby off of a narrow hallway. On the opposite side of the hallway, a short corridor leads into the rear of the balcony in the sanctuary. A social hall in the basement is a large space located directly below the main sanctuary. It is reached via a staircase from the lobby. Its ceiling is supported by columns. The social hall has been significantly altered with little remaining of its original design
Astoria Center of Israel has been continuously maintained as a synagogue since its construction in 1925.