We hope you can join us for our upcoming lecture on Charles B. J. Snyder on Tuesday, September 4th (RSVP information). An architect and Superintendent of School Buildings from the city’s consolidation in 1898 until 1923, Snyder was the guiding force behind the planning and construction of more than 140 elementary schools, ten junior high schools, and twenty high schools. One of the most prominent and noteworthy examples of Snyder’s work can be found right here in the East Village — the former Public School 64 at 605 East 9th Street, between East 9th and 10th Streets and Avenues B and C.
As the city’s and the East Village’s immigrant population surged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the need for classroom space mushroomed as well. The newly consolidated school system embarked on an expansion effort. Built between 1904 and 1906, P.S. 64’s French Renaissance Revival style details grace an innovative ‘H’ style floor plan that cuts through the block. Snyder developed the layout to maximize light and air for classrooms amidst the city’s dense side-streets. The ‘H’ plan also created two protected recreation areas for students and a greater buffer between classroom windows and street-noise.
Snyder also placed a ground-floor auditorium in the school with entrances directly from the street. This availability of access (without needing to go through the school building) allowed the auditorium to be used for community lectures, performances, and other events, and spoke to the desire to make schools a center of learning for the entire community at the time.
The school was built for 2,500 pupils, and at one time housed an annex to meet high demand, but by the mid-twentieth century the population of the East Village and Lower East Side were on the decline — as were the city’s financial fortunes — and in 1977 the city’s Board of Education closed the school.
The building, however, continued to serve the neighborhood as a community center, as described by the designation report from the Landmarks Preservation Commission:
At this time, a local nonprofit organization, Adopt-A-Building, was searching for space for its workers and trainees. This group had been started by the Rev. Norman Eddy and the New York City Mission Society in East Harlem in 1970 to help local residents repair and restore their buildings when owners had let them fall into disrepair or had abandoned them. Their goal was to train and empower residents of blighted neighborhoods to improve their own buildings and their communities and they became part of the widespread urban homesteading movement of the 1970s. Adopt-A-Building had received a large grant to train local young people in the construction trades and P.S. 64 provided a perfect project for them. The trainees moved into the abandoned P.S. 64 and began working to make the building habitable again so that the administration and programming staff could move in (which they did in late 1978).
Beginning in 1979, another existing local group, CHARAS, occupied the western wing and theater of the school building. CHARAS and Adopt-A-Building formed a new corporation, El Bohío (a word that translates as “hut” and signifies a friendly public space for community use) to sign a lease for the building with New York City, a lease that specified that the building be used for community purposes. CHARAS was a continuation of a previous group called the Real Great Society. This had been formed in 1964 by five young Puerto Rican men who had been leaders in a youth gang and had decided to put their skills to more positive uses, fostering community-based urban ecology, arts and culture. At P.S. 64, CHARAS sponsored many of its own programs such as after-school programs and physical fitness programs for local children. Continuing the role of the school as a community center envisioned by the original architect, they hosted cultural performances in the auditorium.
By 1998, the Giuliani administration decided to sell the building to a private developer, and despite attempts to prevent the sale, CHARAS/El Bohío was evicted in 2001 and the building has remained empty since. With support from GVSHP, community groups, and local elected officials, P.S. 64 was landmarked by the city in 2006, but the building’s future still remains uncertain.