Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: The Hebrew Technical Institute, 9th and Stuyvesant Streets
Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
On December 1, 1917, the Evening Post wrote: “The tide of Jewish immigration to this country had begun in 1883, following the first of the Russian massacres, and the question was what to do with refugees who were swarming to the United States as a Promised Land. Always a seer far into the future, [Henry Marcus] Leipziger… was asked to take charge” of the Hebrew Technical Institute, “the first manual training school of a public nature in New York.” This school, housed in a complex of buildings located around the triangular intersection of 9th and Stuyvesant Streets, was the site of life-changing education for children and adults of all religions, nationalities, and backgrounds. Though directly adjacent to the St. Mark’s Historic District and of great architectural and historic value, neither it nor most of its surroundings in the East Village or in the area south of Union Square are landmarked — a state of affairs we are trying to remedy.
The Hebrew Technical Institute grew rapidly to occupy three buildings on this triangular block. The oldest of these buildings is 225 East 9th Street, which was originally built in 1891 for the Baron de Hirsch Trade School, a charitable organization established in the 19th century to help poor Jews from Eastern Europe escape poverty and violence in Eastern Europe and settle in the New World. Some time between 1899 and 1901 the Hebrew Technical Institute (a separate group with a related mission) took over 225 East 9th Street and built 34 Stuyvesant Street as an addition to 225 East 9th Street, at the same time raising the older building from four to six stories, and altering its facade from the neo-Romanesque style building we see in the 1893 image to the Beaux-Arts style building we see today. No. 34 Stuyvesant Street was built in a similar Beaux-Arts style.
The newest of the buildings, 28 Stuyvesant Street, dates to some time prior to 1914, and is a 6- story neo-Renaissance style building. The building sits on the asymmetrical lot, whose shape is created by Stuyvesant Street cutting through the block. The first story features tall arched windows. The windows on the second and third floors are separated by a decorative panel and the second and fifth-floor windows feature a continuous sill. The entryway is flanked by engaged columns and topped with an arched pediment. In 1914, The Real Estate Record and Builders Guide announced that the architects were drawing up plans for the site as an addition to 34 Stuyvesant Street:
“Joseph L Steiman and Rouse & Goldstone… are preparing plans for a 6-sty addition to the school at the intersection of Stuyvesant and 9th Sts for the Hebrew Technical School, 34 Stuyvesant St. and will take bids on general contract from a selected list of contractors, about April 15”
According to the New York Times, the building provided “over 2,000 square feet each for fundamental training… A large part of the building’s top floor is devoted to a composite shop in which students will work out model curricular problems.”
The Hebrew Technical Institute
The Hebrew Technical Institute was founded in 1884 and operated on 9th and Stuyvesant Street until 1939. A non-sectarian school, it was one of the first technical schools in the United States. The United Hebrew Charities, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and the Hebrew Free School came together to found the Hebrew Technical Institute in November 1883. It officially began its life as a vocational school on January 4, 1884, and provided training in mechanical drawing, woodwork, metalwork, instrument making, electricity and auto mechanics for students between the ages of 14 and 17. After completing two years at the school, students could specialize in wood-working, pattern making, metalworking, instrument making, mechanical drawing, architectural drawing, wood carving, free-hand drawing, applied electricity, printing, textiles, automotive mechanics, aeronautics, ceramics, leatherwork, and much more.
When the Institute was one year old, Dr. Edgar Starr Barney joined the staff as a teacher of engineering and math, then in 1887, he became the principal of the school, a post he held until his death in 1938 – that’s 51 years. When Barney died, “more than 20,000 volumes, including a separate collection of rare technical books…were donated by the executors of his estate, [and] constitute the building’s library.”
After 55 years of operation, the Hebrew Technical Institute closed in 1939. The building at 28 Stuyvesant was taken over by NYU and was used as a site for Industrial Arts education. NYU named the building the Barney Building, after Dr. Barney, to keep the legacy of the building’s history alive through its name.
The buildings’ impressive unified architectural style and historical connection to immigration, Jewish history, and educational innovation warrants recognition and preservation. Currently lacking in landmark protections, these and many surrounding buildings could be torn down at any time.