Amid the cast-iron facades of commercial and converted residential buildings between Broadway and University Place in the Village resides a large brick and brownstone institutional building. With its Police Athletic League (PAL) banners and Police Department signage over the door, it looks like it could have been an old station house re-purposed for PAL uses. In fact, this building on East 12th Street between University Place and Broadway is one of the city’s oldest surviving school structures, and was the workplace of one of the pioneers of higher education for women.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report tells us that the building that stands at 34 ½ East 12th Street was constructed in 1855 by the city’s Board of Education. Part of the 15th Ward, which ran from 14th Street to Houston Street, 4th Avenue to 6th Avenue, the structure was built on an empty lot on a block populated with private homes and horse stables. It was designed by architect Robert R. Jackson for the Board of Education in the Anglo-Italianate style popular for institutional and commercial buildings at the time.
The new Grammar School 47 was the third public school built in the ward at a time when “the Board of Education had 271 schools under its jurisdiction, including 95 grammar schools, 101 primary schools, 14 ‘colored’ schools, 29 evening schools for working children, 3 normal schools for teacher training, one free academy, and 28 corporate and asylum schools.” Grammar School 47 was built primarily as a school for girls at a time when formal public education for women was still a controversial subject.
An early faculty member at Grammar School 47 was Lydia F. Wadleigh, a strong advocate and practitioner of early and higher education for women. Within a year, she founded the 12th Street Advanced School for Girls within the Grammar School building. By 1870, Wadleigh took on the role of “Lady Superintendent” of the city’s Daily Female Normal School, which would soon become New York Normal College, and eventually develop into today’s Hunter College (Hunter was originally a women’s college until it became co-educational in 1964).
Though Wadleigh died in 1888, when the Board of Education created the first official high school for girls in 1897, they located it at the East 12th Street building. The girls’ high school was later moved to a new building on West 115th Street (which was designed by noted architect C.B.J. Snyder and is itself a New York City landmark) and named in Wadleigh’s honor.
By 1913 the Board of Education converted the 12th Street building for use as administrative offices for its building operations and maintenance bureau. In 1958, the Board of Education vacated the building and turned it over for use by the Police Athletic League. The PAL, which since 1914 has run youth development programs throughout the city, still uses the building as the site for its administrative offices.
Grammar School 47 is one of many significant historic educational sites in the neighborhood, such as P.S. 64/Charas-El Bohio and the Children’s Aid Society homes for boys and girls. If you would like to learn more about these and all the other landmarked sites in our neighborhoods, be sure to check out GVSHP’s landmark report and photo page.