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Home > News > Preservation Study Needed on 70 Mulberry

Preservation Study Needed on 70 Mulberry

When the Mayor announced $80 million in capital funding for 70 Mulberry Street on July 2, he said “it’s vital that 70 Mulberry continue to be part of Chinatown’s history.” But there is still no commitment from the City for a study to determine what can be saved of, in the Mayor’s words, “the beating heart of Chinatown.”

If the City wants to have a fair and informed community dialogue about the future of this beloved building, two things need to happen. The City must immediately stabilize what is left of the fire-damaged former school. The City must agree to a “preservation assessment” to determine what exactly can be restored. The City could hire professionals to do this. We also have a skilled team ready to go.

70 Mulberry Street, left from 1920 and right from June, 2020.

City officials have suggested this assessment could wait until after the planned, 90-day community engagement. It can’t. Community residents need this information up front. The engagement team needs to make an informed decision. Preservation needs to be part of the process not an afterthought. The City needs to expedite access to the site so the preservation assessment can take place now.

70 Mulberry is the first school designed by noted architect C.B.J. Snyder. As P.S. 23, it taught generations of community residents. Most recently it housed non-profit community groups as well as the Museum of Chinese in America collections and archives. A fire damaged the upper floors last January.

So far, the community has heard from City agencies who say the building has to come down. It’s time to hear what could be saved.

As of July 21, there is still no word on whether the City will allow a preservation assessment on this beloved Chinatown building. We have an expert team ready to go.

70 Mulberry Street Update – August 3, 2020

City and State elected officials representing Chinatown sent a joint letter asking the City to immediately stabilize the remaining floors of this “beloved cultural landmark” and undertake a preservation assessment of the fire damaged former school. The letter echoed community and Conservancy calls for a study of how much of the building can be preserved. At the same time, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), and 7 other traditional organizations, called for demolishing the building and replacing it with a 20-story building that would include affordable housing but tower over Chinatown’s low-rise core.

It’s time for the City to order the preservation assessment so that the community can make an informed decision on the building’s future.

70 Mulberry Street Update – August 18, 2020

Mayor de Blasio returned to Chinatown last week and was met by residents seeking to preserve 70 Mulberry, the former PS 23, a longtime anchor of the neighborhood. No response the Mayor. But the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) says they will finally address a July 30 letter from elected officials asking for a preservation assessment of the building at stakeholder meeting this Thursday.

70 Mulberry Street Update – August 25, 2020

Where’s the $80 million? Officials from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) told a stakeholder meeting last week that the City can’t afford to pay for a preservation assessment of this beloved former school building. And they won’t accept an offer of pro bono services.

DCAS suggested waiting months until the community “envisioning process” is complete. But the community can’t make an informed decision without a preservation assessment. Mayor de Blasio pledged $80 million for the building on July 2. Has DCAS spent it all? Where’s the public accounting? Elected officials asked DCAS for a preservation assessment in a July 30 letter. It took DCAS three weeks to say no.

70 Mulberry Street Update – September 8, 2020

70 Mulberry Update. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) Commissioner Lisette Camilo finally answered a request by elected officials for a preservation assessment of this beloved Chinatown icon. She said no. Read full response letter here

Instead, she offered “further dialogue” and said DCAS “will continue to assess the need for this analysis.” The Commissioner did say that rebuilding “should be guided by what existing elements of the building can be preserved.” But the community won’t know what can be preserved without an independent assessment. Are the electeds satisfied with this rebuff? We’re asking them. And we hope others are too.

70 Mulberry Street Update – September 15, 2020
Community Board 3’s Land Use Committee is scheduled to get an update on 70 Mulberry.

Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Tuesday, September 15 at 6:30pm
Online:  https://zoom.us/j/93439932803
By Phone: +1 646 518 9805, +1 929 205 6099
Meeting ID: 934 3993 2803

Rally to save PS 23 / 70 Mulberry Street on Saturday – Photo by Corky Lee

Let’s hope there are questions about why the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is stonewalling attempts to get a preservation assessment of the building. Evidently a firm has been chosen to facilitate the “community engagement” process. But DCAS hasn’t publicly announced the firm or the makeup of the entire community panel. Without a preservation assessment, the community lacks the information it needs to assess the building’s future.
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Great News for 70 Mulberry Street!!!
July 2, 2020

Following community rallies and preservationist calls to save 70 Mulberry Street, Mayor de Blasio announced today that there is $80 million in the capital budget to restore what he termed “the beating heart of Chinatown.”

“It’s vital that 70 Mulberry continue to be part of Chinatown’s history,” the Mayor said, adding he wants to “preserve every piece of history we can.” The Mayor thanked Council Member Margaret Chin, who went to school at 70 Mulberry, for championing the former P.S. 23.

Built in 1892, 70 Mulberry is a contributing building to the Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District on the State/National Register of Historic Places.

Our thanks to the Mayor and to Council Member Chin, and to the other elected officials who sponsored a Town Hall meeting last week. We also thank all of you who responded to our call on Tuesday for a preservation assessment of this important building and emailed Council Member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

A preservation assessment is still needed. While the City hired outside architects and engineers to do a report on the damage caused by a January fire, they did not ask for details on how it could be restored. Let’s find that out quickly. The Conservancy stands ready to help.

In recent decades, the building housed Chinese American non-profits and research and collections of MOCA, the Museum of Chinese in America. This was the first building designed by noted school architect C.B.J. Snyder. It’s a wonderful example of how distinctive historic buildings anchor communities and serve generational needs.

We’ll continue to follow 70 Mulberry as the City conducts a “community envisioning” process. But let’s celebrate today’s announcement.

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Help Save Chinatown History
June 30, 2020

When a January fire damaged 70 Mulberry Street, Mayor de Blasio vowed to restore the 1891 building, known as the “heart of Chinatown.” Instead, the City has been demolishing the upper floors of this 5-story former school.

P.S. 23 was the first school designed by celebrated school architect C.B.J. Snyder. By the early 1900s it was known as the “school of 29 nationalities” and one of the most successful in the City. In recent decades it has housed Chinese American non-profits, and research and collections of MOCA, the Museum of Chinese in America. It’s a contributing building to the Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District on the State/National Register of Historic Places. 

Last Thursday, bowing to “lots of passion in this community,” City officials spoke at a Town Hall meeting sponsored by elected officials. They promised a 90-day “community envisioning” process. But architects and engineers the City engaged to independently assess the damage were not asked to consider preservation. Residents rallied this past Saturday to save the exterior.

There can’t be a fair review without an independent preservation assessment. The elected officials who sponsored the Town Hall must demand that the City allow one.

The Conservancy is a big fan of Snyder. As Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education from 1891-1923, Snyder revolutionized school construction. He gave children light, air, and beauty. His buildings told students that education is important–and so were they. Many of his 400 buildings are still in use as schools. Others have been transformed into community centers and housing.

70 Mulberry has an important history. It’s a wonderful example of how distinctive older buildings can anchor a community, foster pride, hold memories, and serve generational needs. The community deserves a fair and complete assessment of whether the existing 70 Mulberry can still serve them.

You can help: email the elected officials below, who sponsored the Town Hall meeting and tell them to insist on a preservation assessment.

Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer

New York City Council Member, Margaret S. Chin

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