New York City’s financially-strapped Department of Education is seeking to cash in on a 99,000 square foot lot on 70th Street just west of Broadway, but a local elementary school and the legacy of one of America’s first Modernists stand in the way. If the Department gets its way, the three-story P.S. 199, designed in 1963 by Edward Durell Stone, will be sold to developers and replaced by a 340-foot-tall luxury residential tower in the already crowded Upper West Side neighborhood.
Stone’s architecture has faced criticism since the late 1950s, when he moved away from the earlier International Style to incorporate classical reference and Beaux-Arts formalism into his designs. While some of his work, like DC’s Kennedy Center, have won over both the public and critics, other relics of his legacy have not faired as well. Famously, the marble-clad “Lollipop Building” at 2 Columbus Circle faced drastic renovations both inside and out in 2005, effectively erasing any remnants of Stone’s maligned eclectic historicism despite strong resistance from preservationists and the architectural community. PS 199, with its white brick colonnade, dramatic six-foot cornice, and sober monumentality exhibits many of the same qualities that have won Stone praise from some and abuse from others. While it has thus far slid beneath the radar of Stone’s detractors, it may soon face the wrecking ball nonetheless.
Neighborhood residents have begun a campaign to stop the Department’s efforts, with a petition less than 300 signatures short of its goal. Community members worry that the planned residential development will displace their school, lead to additional stress on already burdened local infrastructure, and lead to overcrowding. While the Department promises to install a new school in the base of the development, like they did at Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, this concession has done little to appease local antagonism towards the project. One can assume that as this project moves forward, we will here more and more from local activists and preservationists alike.