From the street, there’s little to distinguish the Gothic Revival mansion at 770 Eastern Parkway, seven blocks east of Prospect Park. But the unassuming Crown Heights building is actually one of the most iconic structures in New York City and beyond — at least 11 replicas of 770’s ornamented brick facade have been built in locales as diverse as Milan, Italy and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The building isn’t as architecturally impressive as the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge. The structure at 770 Eastern Parkway has a different kind of magnetism: religion.
As the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement — one of the world’s largest ultra-orthodox Jewish groups — the building has become a powerful symbol of adherents’ faith and connection to the community.
Constructed in the early 20th century and originally used as a medical office, the building was purchased in 1941 by the leader of the Lubavitch movement because of one key architectural feature: It had an elevator.
The high-profile Jewish activist Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson had just been diplomatically removed from Nazi-occupied Poland and was looking for a new American home and synagogue for his religious organization. Schneerson suffered from health problems and used a wheelchair. So when he went looking for a new religious headquarters, the elevator at 770 Eastern Parkway helped seal the deal.
Schneerson lived in an apartment on the second floor, while the building’s other rooms were used for study rooms, offices and prayer rooms. When Schneerson died in 1950, his son-in-law Menachem Mendel Schneerson took over the movement as its seventh rebbe and helped to grow it into the worldwide organization it is today.
The building was expanded multiple times in the 1960s and ’70s, and is still popularly used for study and prayer. But more than its everyday use, the Brooklyn building has become a symbol of the Lubavitch movement — its image decorates mezuzah cases and tefillin bags, and it even inspired a kosher wine named Seven-Seventy.
When Lubavitchers establish a new outpost — whether it’s across the country or across the globe — it’s become custom to replicate the Brooklyn building. Some are more architecturally faithful than others.