- Since we live in this world, we have to do our best for this world. Aung San Suu Kyi
Visit P.S. 186
From scholastic to sepulchral - now under reconstruction.
Built by acclaimed chief architect for New York City schools C. B. J. Snyder, Public School 186 opened in 1903 as a Harlem elementary school. 100,000 square feet and shaped like an H, the building (which was originally inspired by the Hôtel de Cluny in Paris) had reached such a state of disrepair by the 1970s that officials could only speculate on what would kill the students first in case of fire, as quoted in the New York Times: “Children would suffocate to death before being burned to death or before they got a chance to leap to their death. In any case, they would die.” Indeed, the school’s long corridors, poor security, and general neglect led to incidents of parents being robbed by hoodlums off the street and teachers’ aides being raped at gunpoint. In 1975, the 72-year-old school was finally closed down after it was discovered that the fire alarm system had been cut.
Today the building still sits tall and red on its haunches, staring out across West 145th Street. It was once considered an eyesore but many now find the nostalgic, turn-of-the-century architecture of the building beautiful and are fighting to landmark and renovate it into a community space, while others would rather have it demolished. Issues of legality and ownership and money have development at a standstill, however, so P.S. 186 remains, 111 years old and decaying away as the world spins on.