Volume 77 / Number 41 - March 12 - 18, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Shoshanna Bettencourt

Landmarked old P.S. 64 left exposed to the elements

Michael Rosen, a founder of the East Village Community Coalition, recently called attention to the fact that tarps atop the old P.S. 64’s denuded dormer windows have become shredded, exposing the bare brick to the elements — like last Friday evening’s heavy downpour — surely damaging the landmarked building. Last Friday, Lisi de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the agency is aware of the situation and is taking action. “A site visit has been made and a letter is being sent to the owner regarding the need to protect the building,” de Bourbon said. She said if the problem is not fixed, L.P.C. will send another letter, and, if it’s still not fixed after that, will issue a violation, which could include fines. Some believe the negligence is purposeful on the part of the building’s owner, Gregg Singer, who is fighting in court to overturn the landmarking of the old school just east of Tompkins Square Park. Singer purchased the building — then still the CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center — for more than $3 million in 1998 at an auction of city-owned property. In March 2004, Singer unveiled plans for a 23-story university dormitory tower on the site, sparking neighborhood outrage. Eight months later, Singer came back with a plan for a 19-story tower that preserved the old school’s E. Ninth St. facade, but the community opposition didn’t lessen. In June 2006 the community and former Councilmember Margarita Lopez succeeded in getting the city to landmark the old school, of which Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” was one of a number of alumni who made it big in show business. But, in August 2006, using a pre-existing permit, Singer lopped off the building’s architectural details as part of a ruthless strategy to overturn the landmarking. His lawyer at the time bluntly likened the exterior demolition to “scalping” the building. At the same time, Singer pledged to turn the old P.S. 64 into the “Christotora Treatment Center,” offering temporary housing for the homeless and ex-convicts, supportive housing for people with H.I.V./AIDS and services for the mentally ill, substance abusers and “troubled youth,” as he put it. Yet, a decade after he purchased it, the old school building remains empty — with the bare-brick tops of its dormer windows exposed to the wind, rain and snow.

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