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Preservation Study Needed on 70 Mulberry

70 Mulberry Street Update – November 17, 2020

Public sessions on the fate of Chinatown icon 70 Mulberry Street ended last week. The consultants running the City-sponsored “envisioning process” are scheduled to present their findings publicly in mid-December. They aren’t making specific recommendations. The fire-damaged building’s fate is up to DCAS – the Citywide Department of Administrative Services.

Chinatown residents were eloquent speaking of the generations of memories the building holds. There is widespread demand to preserve and rebuild the 1891 former school, the first designed by famed school architect C.B.J. Snyder. But a business group wants to demolish it for an out of scale, 20 story modern building.

Many residents who favor preservation are skeptical of the City-run process, and the City’s intent. There was no preservation assessment of the building. The structure was left open to the elements until residents demanded protection. Participants were asked what programs should go into 70 Mulberry with no knowledge of its final form or advice on what programs would be compatible. Some residents attempted to fit all the long unmet needs of the neighborhood into the structure.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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