C.B.J. Snyder and the East Village
We have written a number of times about the former P.S. 64/ CHARAS-El Bohio Community and Cultural Center and our efforts to save the landmarked building. The beloved historic structure was built in 1906 and designed by architect and then-New York City Superintendent of School Buildings C.B.J. Snyder (November 4, 1860 – November 14, 1945). During his tenure in that position from 1891 to 1922, Snyder designed close to three hundred fifty schools and school additions, nearly all of which were considered landmarks of educational design. Unfortunately, not all of the master’s school buildings survive to this day.
But the East Village is especially fortunate. It boasts seven more C.B.J. Snyder designs in addition to P.S. 64, all built between 1893 and 1911. They are: 324 East 5th Street (113 East 4th Street, currently the Manhattan School for Career Development), PS 122 at 150 First Avenue, 265-275 East 4th Street (currently the George Daly House), PS 188 at 422 East Houston Street (446 Avenue D), PS 63 Star Academy at 121 East 3rd Street (150-160 East 4th Street), PS 15 The Roberto Clemente School at 333 East 4th Street, and PS 61 at 604-626 East 12th Street. These structures serve not only as a testament to the great work of Snyder, but also as a representation of the tremendous need for schools for a booming underage population in what is now the East Village at the turn of the 20th century, which, along with the Lower East Side, was the most densely populated area in New York City at that time.
C.B.J. Snyder became the New York City Superintendent of School Buildings in 1891. From the beginning, he sought to improve conditions at New York City schools, which had been likened to factories by the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide in 1890. First, lots adjoining schools would be purchased and buildings on them demolished to provide yards for more space and light for the schools, as well as room for stairs and toilets. By the mid-1890’s, he was designing more new school buildings with large windows and specialized spaces like gymnasiums, auditoriums, and laboratories. He created an ‘H Plan’ for new schools that built yards and which provided generous light and air around the classrooms; that innovation is recognized as among his most innovative design achievement. The design theories applied by Snyder during his 31-year tenure reflected, and in some cases pioneered, progressive ideas in education at that time.
PS 25, 324 East 5th Street (1893): Replacing tenements, this five-story school was built in 1893 fronting East 4th Street. It abutted at the rear a school building which was constructed in 1871 and fronted East 5th Street. The 1871 building was later demolished and a parking lot is currently in its place. The remaining C.B.J. Snyder building currently serves as the Manhattan School for Career Development.
PS 122, 150 First Avenue (1893-94): This school was built to replace Primary School 22, which was condemned and demolished. In the mid-1970’s, P.S. 122 was closed due to the City’s financial crisis during that time. Later a group of visual artists started to use the classrooms for studios. Now known as Performance Space 122, arts groups have occupied the building ever since 1980. The former school’s gym on the first floor was converted into a performance space in 1986, signifying the organization’s expansion. The group has recently renovated the space again and re-opened serving New York’s cultural and artistic community.
PS 105, 265-275 East 4th Street (1896): PS 105 also replaced an earlier school building, and was constructed in 1896. The school building was abandoned by 1963, and an application was made to alter the property into a community house for Mobilization for Youth, a program that provided technical job training. Since the early 1990’s, the building has been occupied by the George Daly House, a non-profit institution that provides housing accommodations for the homeless.
PS 188, 422 East Houston Street; 446 Avenue D (1901-02): At this location, Snyder was presented with a mini city block rather than a corner or mid-block lot. He employed a ‘C’ plan above the first floor allowing for maximum light and air to the classrooms on those floors. Today, the building continues its educational use as the Island School. It was the only building that wasn’t demolished when the Lilian Wald Houses were constructed 1945-50.
PS 63, 121 East 3rd Street; 150-160 East 4th Street (1903): A number of tenements were demolished to make way for Snyder’s first through block H plan school in the East Village, as seen in the maps below. PS 63 continues in its capacity as a school today now called the Star Academy.
PS 15, 333 East 4th Street (1904): The central portion of this structure on East 4th Street was built in 1904 adjacent to PS 15 which fronted East 5th Street. In 1927, two tenements to the building’s east were demolished, and in 1931 the Hope Chapel to the building’s west was demolished. As part of the WPA program, the building on East 5th Street was also demolished. In 1953 two alteration permits were filed for the addition of an auditorium wing and a wing with additional classrooms. It is currently PS 15 The Roberto Clemente School.
PS 61, 604-626 East 12th Street (1911): The E-shaped school at East 12th Street was built in 1911. In the early 1950s, PS 61 was the largest elementary school by enrollment. However, those numbers would decrease later in the 20th century, and in the early 1990s, PS 61 was closed. The school building is now mostly occupied by several charter schools.
Snyder retired as the NYC Superintendent of School Buildings in 1922 and was succeeded by another noted school architect, William H. Gompert. Gombert continued Snyder’s design legacy seen in PS 60 at 430-432 East 12th Street which was built in 1923 and follows the H plan. And although many of Snyder’s schools no longer serve their original purpose, almost all still serve our community.