FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 27, 2018
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LPC Designates Three East Harlem Buildings As Individual Landmarks
These historic buildings represent the rich history and evolution of East Harlem during the 19th and 20th centuries.
NEW YORK – Today, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated three buildings in East Harlem as individual landmarks: the former Richard Webber Harlem Packing House at 207-215 East 119th Street, the former Public School 109, now El Barrio’s Art Space PS109, at 215 East 99th Street, and Benjamin Franklin High School, now the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, at 260 Pleasant Avenue. These three historic buildings represent the rich history and evolution of East Harlem during the 19th and 20th centuries.
As part of the Administration’s multi-agency effort to plan for East Harlem’s future, LPC surveyed the neighborhood’s historic resources and identified these properties as some of the most architecturally and culturally significant in the neighborhood.
“We are proud to designate these three buildings in East Harlem as individual landmarks for their architectural and cultural significance,” said Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “They embody East Harlem’s unique development history and recognize the civic institutions and businesses that helped shape the lives of the neighborhood’s immigrant groups.”
The former Richard Webber Harlem Packing House is a fine example of 19th century architectural design and a reminder of East Harlem’s commercial and industrial past. The building was constructed in 1895 and originally part of a larger commercial slaughterhouse, meat packing and retail complex. Designed by the architectural firm of Bartholomew & John P. Walther for the prominent butcher Richard Webber, this building combines elements of both the Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles. The façade features triforium piers and Roman arches with Byzantine and Corinthian capitals characteristic of the Romanesque Revival style while the simplicity of lines and the overall flatness of the building, the decorative roundels and repetitive design motifs, and the projecting cornice with its paneled frieze speak to the Renaissance Revival style. The central bay prominently displays terracotta cow head reliefs symbolizing the building’s original function.
This structure is one of the few high design style buildings remaining in this East Harlem neighborhood from the turn of the century. The former meatpacking house represents the evolution of the neighborhood and a specific time in East Harlem’s History, and the industrialization of food production in the early 20th century needed to serve the growing residential community. The complex remained in use by the Webber meat packing company until 1928, after which the building served a variety of commercial functions. The building retains a high degree of historic integrity with limited alterations including infill windows and painted masonry at the base, which do not diminish its strong architectural character or presence.
The former Public School 109 at 215 East 99th Street is architecturally and culturally significant as a Progressive-era school designed by the Superintendent of School Buildings Charles B. J. Snyder. Constructed in 1899, the building combines the eclectic historicism of the Collegiate Gothic style with modern construction methods and a forward-thinking site plan. Snyder adopted the early use of the H-Plan building layout with ample courtyard spaces in between the buildings for recreational use. The building is clad in limestone and brick, with a stylistic expression that joins elements of the late Gothic with French Renaissance motifs and the order of Beaux-Arts planning.
P.S. 109 embodied the goals of urban educational and social reform at the turn of the twentieth century. Situated in between the German enclave of Yorkville to the south and the Italian section of East Harlem to the north, at the time of its construction the blocks immediately surrounding P.S. 109 were filled with an extraordinarily diverse array of residents, many of whom worked in the neighborhood’s industrial enterprises along the East River. Nearly half of the population was foreign born, and the new immigrants had arrived in large numbers from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Russia. School enrollments at the turn of the century were multiplying, and P.S. 109’s five stories could accommodate more than 2,000 students.
The school remained open until 1996 and in 2015, after restoring the exterior and turning the interior into housing and studio space, Artspace reopened it as an affordable housing complex for local artists. Today, it remains an important symbol of an early twentieth-century moment in which school architecture called on cosmopolitan historical traditions to enrich the lives of an entire community.
Benjamin Franklin High School represents the rich history of the social and political engagement of East Harlem in the mid-twentieth-century. Established as East Harlem’s first high school under the leadership of Leonard Covello, an educator, activist, urban sociologist, and East Harlem resident, the school was meant to reflect a commitment to broad community service through education. Covello’s early activities focused on the issues that faced Italian immigrants, but as East Harlem became increasingly Puerto Rican, he translated much of his educational approach to be more broadly applicable. Covello developed an educational environment that sought to lead his teachers and students through the racial tensions facing East Harlem in the 1950s by creating cultural understanding between the ethnic identities that often fought for the same scant resources.
Positioned between the Harlem River, Thomas Jefferson Park, and the dense neighborhood of Pleasant Village, this grand two-block long brick and limestone Georgian Revival building is a highly visible feature of the community. It was designed by Eric Kebbon, head architect of school construction for the NYC Board of Education, and completed in 1942. The building’s monumental features include Neoclassical elements, such as a dominant full-height entrance porch, which was a popular feature of Neoclassical design, particularly for civic buildings, and the inclusion of a cupola that is inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece.
The building now houses the top-ranked Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics and the Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science. It is a substantial presence in East Harlem and continues to play an important civic role in its community and within the City.
“These three buildings are key pieces of this neighborhood’s history and heritage, and they were raised as priorities for landmark designation by residents and neighbors helping craft the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “These designations are wins for the neighborhood and for planning processes that are driven by inclusiveness and conversation among community stakeholders.”
“Artspace is committed to working with communities to create permanently affordable housing and the preservation of historically important buildings,” said Greg Handberg, Senior Vice President of Properties at Artspace. “The historic rehabilitation of PS109 is an outstanding example of accomplishing both and we are pleased to see the building's designation as a Landmark!"
About the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the mayoral agency responsible for protecting and preserving New York City’s architecturally, historically and culturally significant buildings and sites. Since its creation in 1965, LPC has granted landmark status to more than 36,000 buildings and sites, including 1,408 individual landmarks, 120 interior landmarks, 10 scenic landmarks, and 141 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/landmarks and connect with us via www.facebook.com/NYCLandmarks and www.twitter.com/nyclandmarks.