The Destruction of Landmark P.S. 31
-Bronx P.S. 31 - photo by Ed García Conde, welcome2thebronx.com
-El Barrio's P.S. 109 - photo by Christopher Lopez
A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS – ONE SET FOR DEMOLITION
The City is finally completing the destruction of a landmarked Bronx school after leaving it to decay for years. P.S. 31, a beloved, top performing school designed by C.B.J. Snyder, built in 1897-99, was dubbed the “Castle on the HiIl,” due to its Collegiate Gothic beauty and prominent location on the Grand Concourse. Now it is being razed for new development.
If this wasn’t a City property, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) would have sued the owner for “demolition by neglect” years ago. The LPC did express disgust at the landmark’s deterioration when the Department of Buildings applied last year to demolish it as structurally unsound. But the City can neglect its own landmark properties with impunity. The Bloomberg Administration ignored years of community protest that the building be put back into use as a school or adaptively reused.
This loss is a disgrace.
The Conservancy worked with community leaders when the school was first emptied in the late 1990s after a repair project was botched by a City-selected contractor who did not have experience restoring historic buildings. Generations of Bronx residents went to P.S. 31, which featured a lovely mosaic entrance lobby and Tiffany stained glass in the auditorium. At the time of its closure, it was an academically superior school with a dedicated and dynamic principal.
Mayor Giuliani eventually bowed to community outrage and put funding to restore the school and add a rear addition into his final budget. The new Bloomberg Administration removed the funding.
The school is within a rezoned district designed to encourage neighborhood revitalization. Despite continuing community efforts, interest in having nearby Hostos Community College annex it, or thoughts of turning it into apartments and artist space – nothing materialized.
The loss is even more painful by the contrast with the newly restored P.S. 109 in East Harlem, another once-vacant Snyder school. The Conservancy also worked with this community to stop the City from tearing down P.S. 109 in the 1990’s. It was not a landmark, but was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It took years, but a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that creates artist housing completed restoration of P.S. 109 last year, in conjunction with a local community housing group. We honored their outstanding work with a Lucy Moses Preservation Award.
P.S. 31 is not just a loss for the Bronx. It is another loss for the whole City that was eminently avoidable. It is time the City is held to the same standards as private landmark property owners. If the City doesn’t maintain its landmarks, how can it hold others responsible?
The newly restored P.S. 109, and even the newly restored Pier A, another City landmark property, demonstrate that historic buildings can be adapted to modern needs even after standing vacant for many years. It’s a lesson the City must learn.
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