On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously voted to designate three East Harlem buildings as New York City landmarks.
Landmark East Harlem (LEH) has been working since 2015 to bring attention to East Harlem's rich historic assets. We hope that these designations are the first of many more in the neighborhood. LPC designated the former Richard Webber Harlem Packing House on East 119th Street, PS 109 on East 99th Street (now El Barrio's Artspace PS109), and Benjamin Franklin High School on Pleasant Avenue for their architectural, historic, and cultural significance.
The Richard Webber Packing House, located at 207-215 East 119th Street, was constructed in 1895. Richard Webber was an English immigrant who started a small butcher shop in East Harlem in the late 1870s. The company was very successful, and expanded into a large complex with a staff of 500. At the time of his death in 1908, Webber owned one of the largest butcher companies in the city. Much taller than the other buildings in the complex, the Packing House's formal design and high-quality craftsmanship presented a sophisticated public face for Webber’s operations. The six-story brick and stone Romanesque Revival building features a tripartite façade with a stone base, grand arches and pilasters with carved Corinthian capitals, surmounted by an prominent bracketed cornice.
The central bay of the façade includes the building’s date, 1895 , in carved stone, and prominently features terra-cotta cow head reliefs symbolizing the building’s original function. The building stands as a fine example of 19th-century architectural design and a reminder of East Harlem’s industrial past.
The former Public School 109 (P.S. 109) at 215 East 99th Street is architecturally and culturally significant as a Progressive-era school designed by Superintendent of School Buildings, Charles B. J. Snyder, and constructed in 1899. Combining the eclectic historicism of the Collegiate Gothic style with modern construction methods and a forward-thinking site plan, P.S. 109 embodies the goals of urban educational and social reform at the turn of the twentieth century.
By the 1960s, the blocks immediately surrounding P.S. 109 were radically transformed by urban renewal and the construction of NYCHA's George Washington Houses. P.S. 109 functioned as a school until 1996, when, due to its condition, it was shuttered and threatened with demolition. Local residents and preservation organizations advocated for preserving the site, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. A decade later, Northern Manhattan Collaborative member El Barrio’s Operation Fightback (EBOF) partnered with Artspace to redevelop the former school. EBOF and Artspace restored the building's exterior and renovated the interior into artist housing and studio space that opened in 2015. The former P.S. 109 remains an important symbol of an early twentieth-century moment in which school architecture called on cosmopolitan historical traditions to enrich the lives of an entire community.
The Manhattan Center for Science and Math, formerly Benjamin Franklin School, is the last of the three newly-designated landmarks. Located on the eastern edge of Pleasant Village i along the Harlem River, Benjamin Franklin High School represents the rich history of the social and political engagement of East Harlem in the mid twentieth-century.
Established as East Harlem’s first high school under the leadership of school leader, activist, urban sociologist, and local resident Leonard Covello, Benjamin Franklin High School was intended to be a citizen-centered community school that actively engaged its students and the broader community in social and political reform. Covello envisioned the school as one way to increase opportunities for the Italian immigrant community through bilingual education and community engagement. The school later adapted its popular education curriculum to meet the needs of new Puerto Rican immigrants as well, offering orientations in Spanish and forming a Puerto Rican cultural club. Designed by Eric Kebbon, head architect of school construction for the NYC Board of Education, and completed in 1942, the grand two-block long brick and limestone Georgian Revival building, is a highly visible structure that is symbolic of a community focus and a commitment to the future of East Harlem.
Despite the ultimate abandonment of the Benjamin Franklin High School academic “experiment,” the rich history of the school, from its conception to its reorganization as a standard comprehensive New York City public high school, is a revealing depiction of East Harlem during a period of significant change. The building now houses the top-ranked Manhattan School of Science and Math, and the Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science.
At LEH we are thrilled that the LPC has recognized the value of these historic sites to East Harlem and New York City, and we look forward to fighting for the designation of additional sites in our community.