Yip, yip hurray! Old P.S. 64 is landmarked
The community scored a major victory on Tuesday morning when the Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarked the old P.S. 64 near Tompkins Square Park.
As community members testified at public hearings before Landmarks, this old school building has played a vital role in the community ever since its construction a century ago. It was, for example, the first school building in the city with an auditorium accessible from the street, so the community could easily attend events there, like readings, plays or political campaign speeches. So from its very beginnings, this building was a community center.
The old P.S. 64 played a vital role in the thriving immigrant Lower East Side immigrant community over successive generations of immigrants from Eastern Europe to Puerto Rico. Yip Harburg, who wrote Somewhere Over the Rainbow, as a student there was inspired to pursue his interest in theater.
When, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the city and the community fell on hard times, again it was the old P.S. 64 that was a ray of hope for the neighborhood. Adopt-a-Building and then CHARAS squatted in the then decommissioned school, helping spur the rehabilitation of abandoned neighboring buildings. The former schools high ceilings, large windows and noble exterior attracted artists and it become a hub of creativity, as well as community organizing.
Now that the building is landmarked, it should be respected and treated with care, stressed Robert Tierney, Landmarks chairperson. Those words were obviously aimed at Gregg Singer, the buildings owner, who has bitterly fought the landmarking. Singer possesses a valid pre-existing permit to shear off the buildings extensive, ornate exterior trim and copper cornice and says he will act on it as soon as this week.
Yet, since no owner has ever won a lawsuit to reverse landmarking of his building, we seriously question Singers logic in planning to strip the building to try to undo the landmarking. Singers latest plan to house a shelter and treatment center in the building until his lawsuits with the city are resolved is not causing the panic he may have desired. No one is condemning these uses. Yet, the neighborhood already has a massive shelter not far away on E. Third St. Is this really the most sensible function for the building?
Singers misguided moves, however, must not put a damper on a historic occasion. Thanks and congratulations to Landmarks for designating the old P.S. 64 and to all those who helped make it happen, including the East Village Community Coalition, former Councilmember Margarita Lopez, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Mayor Bloomberg. As one Landmarks commissioner so aptly put it: Yip, yip hurray!