Our expectations have climbed steeply as City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer has joined State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell to call for the restoration of an irreplaceable building by Clarence Stein within the Sunnyside Gardens National Register Historic District.
The opportunity to restore Stein's Sunnyside Community Garage (1927) arrived last fall, with the proposal for a new middle school on the site of Stein's unique structure on 48th Street across from Sunnyside Park. The foremost preservation need within the Sunnyside Gardens planned community, the building is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, a signature design by the chief architect of Sunnyside Gardens. Yet the head of the New York City School Construction Authority was originally quoted as saying she intended to demolish it.
“Wouldn't this building make a perfect school, where children will be learning in a building that speaks the same architectural language as the homes in Sunnyside Gardens and Phipps Garden Apartments, which Stein also designed.” —Barry Lewis, architectural historian. Above, the most public facade, seen from 48th Street at Barnett Avenue; photo from "Sunnyside Gardens, A Home Community," 1929, by the City Housing Corporation.
A new school can remedy the neglect this award-winning building has suffered in recent decades, and a restoration of the façades is the practical solution to make everyone happiest. Architectural professionals tell us the decision is obvious, because it's cheaper, quicker, easier, greener (both less wasteful and more sustainable) to restore Stein's work and re-use it, rather than destroy it and build from scratch. Our best estimate for complete restoration is less than 1% of the overall budget for the school, and the restoration would likely reduce total construction costs. Above all, respecting history and the obligation to preserve Stein's legacy will prevent the unconscionable enviromnental calamity of demolishing such a massive structure. We take heart that other City agencies and private developers have adapted buildings that once looked unsalvageable but are now vital parts of their communities.
In agreement with the parents who led the campaign for a new school, we have rallied supporters from the widest community (locally, across North America, and from Asia to Europe), who submitted hundreds of public comments to say, "Restore, Don't Destroy Clarence Stein's National Register Masterpiece." Community Board 2 concurred, recommending that a preservation architecture firm be hired to direct the re-construction.
Councilman Van Bramer will have final approval over the important aspects of the proposed school project, and he assures us that he shares our vision and determination to restore the exterior façades and the original tower. We'll be working closely with him to be certain the School Construction Authority complies.
To join us in advocating for the preservation of this building and other parts of the historic district, send us an e-mail to Neighborhood@SunnysideGardens.us. We'll keep you updated on our progress.
Below, Clarence Stein at 90 in 1972. He had recently received the Gold Medal for lifetime achievement from the American Institute of Architects and was praised by Ada Louise Huxtable in the New York Times. (See a portrait of the young Mr. Stein, taken the year this building won the Queensborough Chamber of Commerce's award as one of the finest in Queens, on our History page.) If he were with us today, he could join the appeal to restore his tower (right) that was lost to fire in the late 1940s. Rebuilding it would be worthy of an architectural preservation award. Further below, Stein made the south façade, planted with deciduous ivy, into the perfect backdrop for the most beautiful row of private gardens in the Historic District; these, too, are at risk without a sensitive restoration of his building.
Posted on May 5, 2017
by the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance