3 East Harlem buildings with strong community ties up for landmarks designation

Public opinion is unanimously in favor of designating these buildings NYC’s newest landmarks

Three East Harlem buildings that are both culturally and architecturally significant in the neighborhood could soon become New York City’s newest landmarks. The three structures came up before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for a public hearing on Tuesday. The Commission will vote to designate these buildings at a later date.

Up first was the the former Richard Weber Harlem Packing House, a meat market on East 119th Street that was built in 1895. The building today is considered a reminder of East Harlem’s commercial and industrial past and was built for the well-known butcher Richard Webber, who went on to establish one of the largest such businesses in the city after the turn of the century.

Designed by the firm Bartholomew & John P. Walther, the six-story structure was once part of a larger slaughterhouse and retail complex. This structure is the tallest of the group and is notable for its grand arches and the terra cotta cow head reliefs on the central bay of the facade. The Webber Packing House ceased operations in 1928.

 Barrett Reiter
Public School 109 now known as El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109.

The meat market building was followed by the P.S. 109 building on East 99th Street, which is now known as El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109. Originally designed as a school by architect C.B.J. Snyder at the turn of the century, the building was converted into affordable housing for local artists in 2015.

During its time as a school, this limestone and brick building hosted 2,000 students across its five floors. Built as a progressive era school, the space was emblematic of social and urban education reform taking place at that time.

The final item up for designation at the LPC was the stunning two-block long Benjamin Franklin High School, now known as the Manhattan School for Science and Math, overlooking the Harlem River at Pleasant Avenue and East 116th Street.

Built under the leadership of the pioneering educator Leonard Covello, the brick and limestone Georgian Revival-style building opened its doors in 1942. It was originally built for the neighborhood’s Italian immigrant community, and offered bilingual education and community programs. With the influx of Puerto Rican migrants into the neighborhood, the school also became a locus of celebrating diverse cultural backgrounds and immigrants’ contributions to the city. It also became a space to navigate racial tensions that erupted between the Italian immigrant community and African Americans in 1945; even Frank Sinatra visited the school that year to ease tensions and call for unity.

This massive structure is now home to the Manhattan School of Science and Math, and the Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science.

“This school’s legacy is an important lesson in American history as a well-intentioned vehicle for integration and tolerance during the post-war period when cities first began to struggle economically,” read a statement issued by the Historic Districts Council, in support of designation. “Its curriculum was ahead of its time, and its core values are now the basis of our education and workplace systems.”

Many others spoke in favor of designating all three buildings at Tuesday’s meeting and highlighted their cultural relevance to East Harlem and New York City. A separate hearing will be held at a yet to be determined date for commissioners to vote on these buildings.

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