On January 6 2015, on Three Kings Day, the East Village community and allies rallied on the steps of City Hall on a cold winter day to urge Mayor de Blasio to return the Old PS 64/CHARAS El Bohio Community Center to community use. That was just one of many, many grassroots actions over many years regarding the local landmark. The historic former school between East 9th and 10th Streets near Avenue B has remained empty since it was sold at the turn of the millennium by then-Mayor Giuliani over massive protests. Since then, the Save Our Community Center CHARAS coalition and allied organizations and individuals have consistently fought to have this great former public resource returned to community use, instead of standing as an empty shell and potential danger to local residents.
At the rally in 2015 was then-City Council Member Rosie Mendez, who delivered many holiday cards to the Mayor calling for the administration to support the community and get the building back.
Village Preservation joined many others in successfully supporting landmark designation of the former P.S. 64 and Charas/El Bohio Cultural Center at 605 East 9th Street and in opposing the illegal “dorm-for-hire” scheme (which was eventually blocked) on the site and other efforts by the developer/owner to destroy or disfigure the historic building. We are part of a coalition fighting to have the building returned to community use.
At the end of 2020, what many have feared finally occurred — a fire was set in the building. Thankfully, no one was hurt as the local Fire Department put it out and prevented the possibility of injury or even death. Recent tragic fires in empty buildings in Community Board 3 should make everyone concerned. Marble Collegiate Church on 2nd Avenue and East 7th Street was recently severely damaged by a fire started in an empty tenement on the corner which was then razed to the ground. Just a few years ago, another empty landmark in the neighborhood, Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue suffered a devastating fire and had to be demolished, with a worker was killed performing that work.
We cannot have the same thing occur here at Old PS 64/CHARAS-El Bohio. The city has the power and authority to properly seal the building and make emergency repairs and bill the owner, and yet the de Blasio Administration has resisted this sensible and safe move. In 2017, during his election campaign, the Mayor promised to work to return the property to the community. No apparent progress has been made to fulfill this commitment. Instead, public records show that the current owner has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists rather than legally required repairs.
“Decisions made a long time ago were a mistake,” de Blasio declared. “To place that building in the hands of a private owner was a failed mistake. So I’m announcing tonight, the city’s interest in reacquiring that building. We are ready to right the wrongs of the past and will work with Councilmember Mendez and her successor to get that done.” Mayor de Blasio in 2017