The City is Demolishing 70 Mulberry Street without Chinatown Input

Posted on: May 26th, 2020 at 5:08 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

Four months after a devastating five-alarm fire, it seems the city is content to let 70 Mulberry Street meet the wrecking ball. The Department of Buikdings and Department of Citywide Administrative Services together Plan full demolition, without community input.

Roughly a dozen concerned Chinatown residents “attended” the Community Board 3 Land Use committee meeting last week (on ZOOM) to speak in opposition.

DCAS deputy commissioner Quintin Haynes presented photos of the overall fire damage, but was unable or unwilling to provide concrete answers to questions posed by attendees. Again, there was a total lack of transparency on how the city arrived at the decision regarding its property, which is slated to conclude in October. As a concerned neighbor (and also CB3 member), I asked if there had been a cost comparison on full demolition versus “gut and restore.” A gentleman who introduced himself as a structural engineer stated the latter as cheaper. There was also no clarity from the city whether an independent structural firm had assessed the damaged building.

Ultimately, the CB3 committee sided with Chinatown, and resolved to halt demolition and restore community engagement.

Photo: Karlin Chan

The building 70 Mulberry Street was originally built in 1893 as Public School 23 to serve as a model for future “safe” public schools by then-DOE superintendent, BJ Snyder, who went on to design hundreds of city schools. One of its innovative design elements was the basement auditorium, an initial step in a movement to provide community centers and neighborhood meeting halls within schools.

PS23 eventually became a Chinatown anchor, and served generations of immigrant and American-born Chinese students (including myself in the early 1960s). It not only boasts historical significance, but also serves as a reminder to the thousands of former students who have since moved from Chinatown. I still on occasion overhear parents or grandparents tell their children or grandchildren that they went to school there and point to the building as they walk by.

The base of the building is 30″ stonework and every effort should be made to keep it intact. The old saying is “where there’s a will there’s a way,” and for the city to rush into full demolition without any development plans for a replacement is suspicious.

While Chinatown agrees the site must be rebuilt or restored and given back to community use, I am more concerned about the city’s prior pledge to restore. Indeed, Mayor de Blasio stood across the street from the site two days after the fire and vowed to “restore” the building, yet has apparently backtracked in the interim.

Chinatown has to slow the clock on the demolition process and preserve the base of the building until we see plans for the site or we would be left with a vacant lot for a decade. Or until NYC decides to sell the property to a private developer.

The Community Board 3 full vote on the matter is tonight.

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