Sad news in Manhattan: the historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on West 25th Street suffered a devastating fire not long after the Orthodox Easter service this past Sunday. Originally built in the 1850s as the Episcopal Trinity Chapel, and designed by noted architect Richard Upjohn, the storm of fire tore threw the complex and brought up massive destruction. Fortunately no one was hurt and killed, but this tragedy is a blow to the Serbian Orthodox community of NYC, as well as for architecture buffs and all those who appreciate urban history and Gotham's cultural history in general.

This fire reminded me of the terrifying July 2011 fire that ripped through the synagogue building of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side. That structure endured a four-alarm fire during renovations. I visited the building about a week after the horrific inferno and gazed at it, and wrote about it briefly in my book The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). However, "KJ" as it is called was repaired and modernized in certain ways, and reopened to much fanfare in September 2015.

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And in late October 2015, the revered New Brunswick, New Jersey synagogue Poile Zedek experienced a terrible fire as well. I documented the building a week after the fire, and noted how the air on that street was still smelled of singed materials.

When a building catches fire and experiences heavy destruction, it is always a sad occasion. Be it a  residence, business, public site, historic building, the sense of loss is more than just the physical accounting, the ruins that are left smoldering. Typically someone is left homeless, his or her life robbed of things essential and dear. A business may struggle to rebuild, relocate or even fold after a fire. A historic or public site that goes up in smoke can no longer educate or entertain the public. And when a house of worship is brought down by a fire, the congregation suffers as well as the community at large.

What will the people of St. Sava choose to do in light of their loss? How will this impact their whole community in the short run and the long run? How will the neighborhood it was located in deal with the loss? When a fire occurs, it is a dramatic and frightful sight. But the aftermath, the woebegone remains and charred remnants, linger on as pitiful reminders of what was and was lost. And sadly, fires occur all the time.

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