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The Synagogues of New York's Lower East Side:

A Retrospective and Contemporary View, 2nd Edition

Gerard R. Wolfe

Publication Year: 2012

It has often been said that nowhere in the United States can one find a greater collection of magnificent and historic synagogues than on New York's Lower East Side. As the ultimate destination for millions of immigrant eastern European Jews during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became the new homeland and hoped-for goldene medinah (promised land) for immigrants fleeing persecution, poverty, and oppression, while struggling to live a new and productive life. Yet to many visitors and students today these synagogues are shrouded in mystery, as documentary information on them tends to be dispersed and difficult to find. With The Synagogues of New York's Lower East Side, Gerard R. Wolfe fills that void, giving readers unparalleled access to the story of how the Jewish community took root on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Using archival photographs taken by Jo Renee Fine and contemporary shots taken by Norman Borden alongside his text, Wolfe focuses on the synagogues built or acquired by eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants during the great era of mass immigration, painting vivid portraits of the individual congregations and the new and vital culture that was emerging. For many, the Lower East Side became the portal to America and the stepping-stone to a new and better life. Today, the synagogues in which these immigrants worshiped remain as a poignant visual reminder of what had become the largest Jewish community in the world. Originally published in 1978, The Synagogues of New York's Lower East Side became the authoritative study of the subject. Now completely revised and updated with new text, photographs, and maps, along with an invaluable glossary, Wolfe's book is an essential and accessible source for those who want to understand the varied and rich history of New York's Lower East Side and its Jewish population. Its readable and illuminating view into the diversity of synagogues--large and small, past and present--and their people makes this book ideal for teachers, students, museum educators, and general readers alike.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-x

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

To a Jew, a synagogue is not just a place to worship. It is an expression of his or her personality, as much as a home or an article of clothing might be. Some prefer an elegant, cavernous space with a high-hatted rabbi, others a plainspoken room they call a shtiebl led by a man-of-the-people. ...

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xiv

This completely new and updated edition of The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side, originally published by New York University Press more than three decades ago, offers, through text and photographs, a contemporary view of the existing Lower East Side synagogues as well as an in-depth introspective view of the old sites ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xviii

Jo Renée Fine, PH.D., was the official photographer for the first edition of The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side (1978), and her contribution to the present edition brings together the best of her unique early retrospective photos. She is the Director of Training for Harris, Rothenberg International in New York City. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-18

It has often been said that nowhere in the United States can one find a greater collection of magnificent and historic synagogues than on New York’s Lower East Side. As the ultimate destination for millions of immigrant Eastern European Jews during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became the new homeland ...

The Active Synagogues

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1. The Eldridge Street Synagogue/Khal Adas Jeshurun with Anshe Lubz/The Museum at Eldridge Street

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pp. 21-34

On December 2, 2007, a grand celebration took place to mark the completion of the restoration and revival of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The event was the crowning achievement and realization of a magnificent dream — the culmination of an effort that began with this author’s discovery of the building ...

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2. The Bialystoker Synagogue (Bait Ha’Knesset Anshe Bialystok)

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pp. 35-42

Among the few remaining Great Synagogues on the Lower East Side, the Bialystoker, with the largest active congregation, has fared quite well. It is one of about a half-dozen surviving synagogues whose buildings were originally churches. ...

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3. Congregation Chasam Sopher

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pp. 43-48

As the oldest continuously operating synagogue in New York City, as well as New York’s second oldest synagogue building, Chasam Sopher has more than held its own. Built in 1853 as a purpose-built synagogue (rather than as a church), the structure preserves many of its original architectural details. ...

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4. Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshei Brzezan (“The Stanton Street Shul”)

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pp. 49-56

The Stanton Street Synagogue (or the Stanton Street Shul, as it is commonly known) has a history, tradition, and even an architectural presence that ranks it among the outstanding synagogues of the Lower East Side. It was founded in 1894 at 155 Rivington Street by a group of immigrant Jews from the town of Brzezany ...

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5. Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum

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pp. 57-64

The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue is a designated New York City Landmark and was constructed in 1926–1927 by architect Sydney Daub. It became the new spiritual home for a small group of Romaniote Jews who, because of the turmoil of the Balkan Wars, were exiled from the town of Janina (Ioannina) in northwestern Greece. ...

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6. Congregation Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim (Originally Ansche Chesed; now Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts)

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pp. 65-72

Looking at the photograph of Anshe Slonim (People of Slonim) taken in 1973 (page 66), it is hard to imagine the colorful and vital historic role that this structure has played — the oldest extant synagogue building in New York City and the fourth oldest in the nation. The original congregation, Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness), ...

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7. Agudas Anshei Mamod Ubeis Vead Lachachomim/ Society of the Supporters of the House of Sages

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pp. 73-76

The House of Sages was founded in 1922 as a center for prayer, study, and socializing for retired Orthodox rabbis who lived on the Lower East Side. Daily services were held, not just for the rabbis, but also for all who wished to attend. ...

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8. East Side Torah Center

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pp. 77-78

The East Side Torah Center, as with other small early congregations, traces its history to the early nineteenth century, when the most economical accommodations for a new shul could best be found in a former residence, in this case in a circa 1840 Greek Revival row house. Through the years, several chevros occupied the building, ...

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9. Erste Lutowisker Chevra

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pp. 79-80

In the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, Joshua Huberland designed this simple unassuming 1960s brick shul for the Erste Lutowisker Chevra because an urban renewal project had displaced its predecessor shul, organized in 1895. Over the years, this congregation has demonstrated the tenacity and strength typical of so many small Orthodox chevros. ...

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10. Congregation Sons of Moses, Anshe Jendzivo (or Andrzievo), People of Jendzivo (“The Yendzshever Shul”)

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pp. 81-84

This Orthodox synagogue was founded in 1900 by a group of immigrants from the small village of Andrzievo (Jendzivo), located in what is today, northeast Poland (and renamed Andrzejewo). Today’s Yendzshever Shul, as it is commonly known, is located in an attractive Greek Revival brick and brownstone row house, built circa 1840. ...

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11. Community Synagogue (now The Sixth Street Community Synagogue)

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pp. 85-88

Today’s Sixth Street community synagogue/Max D. Raiskin Center occupies one of the more architecturally significant buildings in the East Village section of the Lower East Side, having purchased its house of worship in 1940 — much later than most Lower East Side congregations. ...

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12. Congregation Tifereth Israel/Town and Village Synagogue

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pp. 89-96

The town and village synagogue is named for the nearby apartment complexes of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village from which it draws much of its membership. Town and Village is the only Conservative Jewish congregation within the boundaries of the historic Lower East Side. ...

The “Lost” or Endangered Synagogues

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A. Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol

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pp. 99-104

The first Russian-American Jewish congregation in America and once the oldest Eastern European congregation in New York City, Beth Hamedrash Hagodol (then called Beth Hamedrash) was founded in 1852 in an attic on Bayard Street by Rabbi Abraham Joseph Ash and others who rejected the Reform Judaism of the area’s German- Jewish congregations. ...

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B. First Roumanian-American Congregation, Shaarey Hashomayim

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pp. 105-110

With the collapse of the roof of the 150-year old Roumanian-American shul on January 22, 2006, the Lower East Side and the Jewish community lost one of its most treasured and irreplaceable icons. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured, and the Torahs and holy books were undamaged, but the 1,600-seat sanctuary was in ruins. ...

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C. Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan

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pp. 111-114

This is the only recent case of voluntary demolition of a synagogue on the Lower East Side with the intention of constructing a new residential building on the same site, which was supposed to house a new synagogue as well. The history of the former building is strongly linked with the Jewish history of the Lower East Side. ...

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D. Congregation Beth Haknesseth Mogen Avraham

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pp. 115-118

The modified Greek revival–style building was erected circa 1845 for the First Protestant Methodist Church, but it functioned only for a short time and was subsequently sold to an African American congregation that then renamed the building the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. ...

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E. Sons of Israel Kalwarie (“The Pike Street Shul”)

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pp. 119-122

The name “Pike Street Shul” is still heard today, despite the building’s abandonment and later sale. The former synagogue remains, nonetheless, an imposing edifice and a powerful reminder of the Jewish presence and past influence on the Lower East Side. ...

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F. Erste Warshawer Congregation

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pp. 123-126

Once considered the most beautiful of the small synagogues on the Lower East Side, this imposing former house of worship was originally called Adath Jeshurun of Jassy, for the Jews who emigrated from Iasi (Jassy), Romania. One cannot help but be struck by the impressive appearance of the tan and cream brick structure with its Moorish design, ...

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G. Congregation Beth Haknesseth Etz Chaim Anshe Wolozin

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pp. 127-128

When the first edition of The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side was published in 1978, this congregation, or more accurately, this chevra, was teetering on the verge of extinction despite a long existence on the Lower East Side. Unwilling to give up their identity of origin, many disparate groups joined together ...

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H. Congregation Senier and Wilno

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pp. 129-132

This synagogue had a long and distinguished history. Built by residents of both Senier (Sejny, a shtetl in what was formerly Lithuania and is now Poland; also sometimes spelled Seini, Seinai, or Sineer) and Wilno (Vilna, now Vilnius, Lithuania), the building was destroyed by arson in 1975. ...

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I. Masas Benjamin Ansche Podhajce, Kochob Jacob Anshe Kamenitz Lite

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pp. 133-138

Immigrants from the Galician village of Podhajce in pre–World War I southeast Poland, which then belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Ukraine), organized this congregation in 1895 — naming it Congregation Masas Benjamin Anshe Podhajce. By 1926, the congregation had grown sufficiently to require much larger quarters. ...

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J. Congregation Anshe Obertyn

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pp. 139-140

In its early years, the no-longer-extant synagogue on this site housed the Zalisczicker Rabenu Ager Erste Verein from Zalishchyky, Ukraine (formerly Poland). By the early 1920s, the building housed Congregation Anshe Obertyn (sometimes spelled Obertin) whose members had originated from Galicia. ...

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K. Chevra Bikur Cholim B’nai Israel Anshei Baranov

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pp. 141-144

In the 1970s, when fire consumed the building at 314 East 4th Street, it caused the ultimate collapse of the two adjacent buildings including the former Congregation Anshei Baranov at 316 East 4th Street. That building had been built in 1887 as the Church of SS. Cyril and Methodius, a German- speaking Bohemian Roman Catholic Church. ...

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L. Congregation Anshe Czernowitz-Bukovina

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pp. 145-146

The city of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine) was once the capital of the eastern Austro-Hungarian province of Bukovina, and because of its ornate architecture and cultural associations, became known as “Little Vienna.” In music, its “claim to fame” was in the popular song “Hava Nagila” (“Come, Let’s Rejoice”), ...

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M. Congregation Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezeritch

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pp. 147-150

This delightful little jewel, embraced on both sides by 1890s tenements, is an outstanding example of a Neo-Classical tenement–style synagogue. The congregation was founded in 1888 as Eduth Adas L’Israel Anshe Mezeritch (Witness to Israel, People of Mezeritch) by Polish immigrants, who, 22 years later, rebuilt the building from a former residential tenement. ...

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N. Congregation Ahawath Yeshurun Shar’a Torah

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pp. 151-152

Both 638 East 6th Street and its adjacent twin, 636 East 6th Street, have been attributed to the architectural firm of Vaux & Radford and were built side-by-side in 1889 in an ornate Neo-Classical style. Unusual is the playful use of brick in a three-dimensional sawtooth basket-weave pattern in the building gables. ...

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O. Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Anshe Ungarn

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pp. 153-156

Among the huge numbers of Jewish immigrants arriving in New York between 1848 and 1914 were approximately 100,000 Jews from Hungary. Since they lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were often German-speaking as well, and often considered part of a German influx that grew with the failed revolutions of 1848. ...

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P. Congregation B’nai Rappaport Anshei Dombrova

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pp. 157-158

The original congregation, founded in 1884, filed plans in 1910 to build a synagogue designed by the firm of Bernstein & Bernstein. The simple, elegant Neo-Classical–inspired tenement-style synagogue building, comparable to Anshe Mezeritch, had a bold façade with striking lateral rusticated bands of limestone. ...

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Q. Congregation Kehila Bnai Moshe Yakov Anshe Zosmer veZavichost (“The 8th Street Shul”)

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pp. 159-160

After a lengthy struggle over the future of the synagogue and suffering two fires, the synagogue — the last functioning shul east of Avenue B — was finally sold by its congregation, due partly to the deteriorating state of the building and also because of the increasing inability of some of its most committed elderly members ...

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R. Congregation Poel Zedek Anshe Illiya (“The Forsyth Street Shul”)

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pp. 161-162

The imposing building was built originally for the Forsyth Street Church, and only later became the Forsyth Street Synagogue for a congregation that originated from Illiya (Ilja or Illya), located near Minsk in Belarus. In 1971, the four-story yellow-brick and limestone building was sold to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Union Square. ...

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S. Congregations Kol Israel Anshe Poland and Mishkan Israel Suwalki

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pp. 163-166

Kol Israel Anshe Poland (sometimes spelled “Polan” or “Polen”), (All [people] of Israel, People of Poland), was organized in 1832 in Suwalki, Poland, and in the early 1880s, members emigrated to America, making it one of the earliest Eastern European Jewish congregations to settle on the Lower East Side. ...

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T. Bnai Tifereth Yerushelaim

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pp. 167-168

The former synagogue building has undergone a number of architectural and religious institutional changes. Originally, the structure had been a tenement that was purchased in 1888 and then remodeled into a synagogue. The building served Tifereth Yerushelaim until the late 1960s at which time it was acquired by a Syrian Orthodox (Christian) institution, ...

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U. Congregation Chevra Kadisha Anshe Sochaczew

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pp. 169-172

The congregation was loosely organized in the 1880s by groups of immigrants from the town of Sochaczew, now in Poland. Most of the congregants had fled the periodic pogroms that ravaged the Jewish communities of Russia. (At that time, parts of what had once been Poland had become part of the Russian Empire.) ...

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V. Lemberger Shul

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pp. 173-174

The former Lemberger Shul, built as a tenement synagogue by architect James J. Millman in 1925, is now the Spanish-speaking Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel (Emmanuel Baptist Church). The building’s design shares commonalities with other tenement synagogues of the Lower East Side. ...

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W. Kehila Kedosha Ahavat Shalom de Monastir

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pp. 175-178

Until the late 1970s, there was a Sephardic congregation on the Lower East Side named Kehila Kedosha Ahavat Shalom de Monastir (Peace and Brotherhood of Monastir). The city of Monastir, in what was then southern Yugoslavia, had been a major center for Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews. ...

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X. The Bialystoker Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing (“The Bialystoker Home”)

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pp. 179-182

The Bialystoker Center, commonly known in the neighborhood as The Bialystoker Home, should not be confused with the previously described Bialystoker Synagogue. The long history of the Bialystoker Home for the Aged (later renamed the Bialystoker Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing) began in 1864 …

Appendix

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pp. 183-184

A. Landsmanshaftn and Privately Owned Jewish Banks

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pp. 185-190

B. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

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pp. 191-194

C. The Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy

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pp. 195-196

D. Chronology of Major Hebrew Congregations, 1654–1875

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pp. 197-198

Recommended Readings

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pp. 199-202

Glossary

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pp. 203-210

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About the Author

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pp. 211-

Gerard R. Wolfe, Ph.D., is an architectural historian and former administrator and Professor of Romance Languages at New York University and at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He has written a number of books on a variety of subjects, ...

Photo Credits

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pp. 212-


E-ISBN-13: 9780823250639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823250004
Print-ISBN-10: 0823250008

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 100 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text