Preservation Issues

Saving A Vacant 1787 Landmark – The Erasmus Academy Building


Erasmus Academy Building

UPDATE: June 2017

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has earmarked $665,000 in capital budget funding for restoration work at the historic Erasmus Hall Academy in Flatbush. The money will help secure the 1787 landmark which was the first secondary school in the state.

The Conservancy is grateful for the Borough President’s commitment and hope it will spur the Mayor and Council to put up further funding. Another $1.3 million in capital funding is needed. The City-owned building has suffered from neglect and deferred maintenance in recent years.

We are also grateful to the many Conservancy members who responded to our alerts and contacted Councilmembers during the recent budget discussions asking for a Council allocation for the Academy.

The Conservancy has paid for conditions surveys on the building and has worked with Erasmus High School alumni for several years to achieve City funding. Neither the Mayor nor Council has responded, despite petitions and media attention to the Federal style wooden building. Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, John Jay and other founding fathers donated money for the initial construction. But we’re not giving up.

We will continue to work with Councilmember Matthew Eugene and push for the City to take proper care of its own property—one of New York’s oldest and most important landmarks. The Academy, which sits in a courtyard at Erasmus High School, once housed administrative offices and a museum. It could easily serve as office space again.

Brooklyn Daily Paper
Borough President Puts Up Funds to Restore Historic Erasmus Hall Academy Building

May 2017
Over the past year, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Erasmus alumni have been working toward securing an allocation of $1.33 million from the City Council in the upcoming city capital budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.  These funds would underwrite exterior protection and restoration work that is needed now to preserve the building while we work toward the eventual reuse of it.
 
Efforts have been successful thus far, local Council Member Mathieu Eugene supports the funding.  A funding allocation will not be certain, however, until the budget process is completed within the next few weeks.  The Mayor and the City Council are now finalizing the budget.  Throughout the process, the Conservancy has been spearheading public support directed at key council members and the Speaker.  This video was produced by Erasmus alumni to help the effort.


Save Erasmus Academy Building from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.

February 14, 2017
Click here to read A Quest to Stop Erasmus Hall Academy’s ‘Demolition by Neglect’” in the New York Times, by Stuart Miller

February 29, 2016
The Conservancy and Alumni of Erasmus Hall High School Work Together to save the Erasmus Academy Building

Almost 1,800 people to date have signed a petition to Mayor de Blasio asking him to help the vacant landmark Erasmus Academy Building. The Conservancy sent the petition on February 25, working with the Erasmus Hall Alumni. In addition to the large number of signatures so far, WPIX television did a story February 27 featuring Karen Ansis of the Conservancy who is also an Erasmus graduate. (see below)

The New York Landmarks Conservancy has been working to preserve and reuse the 1787 Erasmus Academy building for several years. Alexander Hamilton was one of the Academy’s founding donors. Now this City landmark sits in a courtyard surrounded by Erasmus Hall High School as a lesson in how not to care for our history. After sponsoring a conditions survey of the Academy, we worked with then Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Erasmus Hall High School alumni to find a user for the building. But bureaucratic red tape scuttled our attempt. Now we hope to use the current enthusiasm for Hamilton to generate enough public support to persuade City Hall that this important building is worth saving and reusing. It would also be a wonderful lesson to current Erasmus students that history matters.

The petition link is still active and in need of more signatures.
Click here to sign >>>> http://bit.ly/SaveErasmusAcademy

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UPDATE February 24, 2016
Sign the Petition – Help Save Erasmus Academy

Click here to sign >>>> http://bit.ly/SaveErasmusAcademy

The New York Landmarks Conservancy has been working to preserve and reuse the 1787 Erasmus Academy building for several years. Alexander Hamilton was one of the Academy’s founding donors. Now this City landmark sits in a courtyard surrounded by Erasmus Hall High School as a lesson in how not to care for our history. After sponsoring a conditions survey of the Academy, we worked with then Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Erasmus Hall High School alumni to find a user for the building. But bureaucratic red tape scuttled our attempt. Now we hope to use the current enthusiasm for Hamilton to generate enough public support to persuade City Hall that this important building is worth saving and reusing. It would also be a wonderful lesson to current Erasmus students that history matters.

Please click on the link and sign the petition. (http://bit.ly/SaveErasmusAcademy)

Also, please join the group called “Friends of the Erasmus Academy Building” on Facebook.

And finally, please pass the link on to anyone and everyone to sign the petition.

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February 3, 2015

History of the Erasmus Academy Building

Dating from 1787, the Erasmus Academy Building is a wood-frame, clapboard Georgian-Federal style structure that is located in the middle of the campus of Erasmus Hall High School in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Its history starts in Colonial New York when, in 1786, the Reverend John H. Livingston and Senator John Vanderbilt founded a private school on land donated by the nearby Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church. Leading citizens of that time, among them Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Peter Lefferts, and Robert Livingston, contributed funds for the construction of the Academy, which opened in 1787. It became the first secondary school in the State to be chartered by the Board of Regents, rendering Erasmus the oldest secondary school in the state and one of the oldest in the country. The Erasmus Academy building was one of the first properties designated as a city landmark by the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966 and then listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

By the end of the 19th century, changes in demographics resulted in an enrollment decline at the private Academy and a new demand for a large public school to accommodate the growing immigrant population. In 1896, the Board of Trustees donated the Academy building and its surrounding land to the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn, with the proviso that the Board would “erect and maintain upon said lands a High School of the same character and grade as other High School buildings in the City of Brooklyn…” In 1898, the consolidation of New York City brought the various school systems in the boroughs under one city-wide agency.

The buildings that were constructed around the Academy and that now comprise Erasmus Hall High School (EHHS) were completed in four campaigns between 1904 and 1940. The renowned school architect Charles B. J. Snyder was the Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education at the start. He designed a true campus for EHHS, with Collegiate Gothic style structures surrounding an open quadrangular green space. EHHS was designated as a city landmark in 2003. It boasts numerous illustrious alumni such as performing artists Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Lainie Kazan, Betty Comden, Beverly Sills, Barbara Stanwyck, Eli Wallach, and Susan Hayward; writers Bernard Malamud and Mickey Spillane; builder Sam Lefrak, former New Jersey governor Jim Florio, sports figures, scientists, and many more, including long-time Conservancy staffer Karen Ansis.

The Academy served as classroom space until the middle of the 20th century, and then as administrative offices, a library, and a museum. It became vacant circa the year 2000. The City’s Department of Education (DOE) has custody of it and maintains that it cannot be used for classrooms and therefore could not be the recipient of DOE funding to make necessary repairs. DOE pledged to cooperate with the Conservancy on any restoration and reuse plans, providing DOE funding was not involved.

In 2010, the Conservancy commissioned a conditions study with grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s new Elizabeth and Richard Preservation Jeffe Fund for New York City, The 42nd Street Fund of the 42nd Street Development Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Completed by the firm of Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen Architects in December, 2010, the study estimated the exterior restoration costs at $2.5 million.

Between 2011 and 2013, the Conservancy worked with the office of former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and a potential nonprofit user for the building to no avail. Efforts are now underway to encourage the City to devise a strategy for stabilizing the Academy Building and to identify a user for it.

Please direct any questions and comments about the Erasmus Academy Building to Karen Ansis at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 212-995-5260.