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Student Residence on CHARAS Site Nixed

Sarah Stuteville Dec 23, 2004

Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, a long-time activist in the four-year fight to reclaim the old P.S. 64 building from developer Gregg Singer, announced a remarkable victory to a cheering crowd of Lower East Side residents at a Dec. 15 community meeting.

“Today, Mr. Singer’s request for a permit to demolish and build a dorm tower was disapproved by the city,” she said, as the meeting of about 50 local citizens whistled and clapped in the auditorium of the new P.S. 64 school on E 10th St., one block from the original building on E 9th St.

Singer was unavailable for comment.

The controversy surrounding the old P.S.  64 building began in 1998 when Singer bought the property for $3.15 million at a city auction. After a prolonged court battle, Singer succeeded in evicting “CHARAS/El Bohio,” the arts and community center that had resided there for more than two decades.

Last March, Singer announced plans to build a 23-story student residency on the site, angering many community groups and local citizens.

In response to Singer’s plans, activists at the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) compiled a history of the old P.S. 64 school in an attempt to highlight the historic importance of the building and encourage the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee to place P.S. 64 on the landmark registry, a move that would permanently protect the almost 100-year-old building, built by renowned architect C.B.J. Snyder.

The EVCC documented its vibrant past in a report titled, “The Significant History of Public School 64,” which reveals that P.S. 64 alumni include songwriter Yip Harburg (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) and actor Sam Levene. The report also noted that Elizabeth Irwin, famous educator and creator of IQ tests, worked at the school from 1912 to 1921.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the school fell into disrepair and was closed, and was soon taken over by drug dealers. In the late 1970s, a group of young Latinos who called themselves CHARAS began building it into the community center that it remained until the 1998 auction.

“It is important to save this building not just for the architectural preciousness of it, but also because it is a landmark for the community,” said Lopez, emphasizing there was much work to be done despite the victory.

“I will go to Congress and apply for $1 million for this institution,” Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez told the meeting, “but I must go to them with a specific plan for what we want to do.