The sad remains of a Harlem grammar school

Public School 186 was a gorgeous Italian Renaissance–style school on 145th Street off Broadway.

There it is, with wide windows and a courtyard, circa 1920 in the photo (courtesy of the NYPL Digital Collection) on the right, just 17 years after opening.

Here it is today, a ruin so dilapidated, trees grow out of the second floor windows and trash mars the courtyard where generations of kids used to play.

A weathered wrought-iron fence tops the original cement barrier between the school and the street.

P.S. 186 is in shocking condition—but how did it get this way?

The city closed the school in 1975; the building changed hands until it was bought (for $215,000!) by the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem in 1986.

The club did nothing with it, letting it fall into disrepair until finally signing on with a developer in 2009 to help turn it into a community center, low-cost housing, and possibly another school, according to a New York Times article from 2010.

Scaffolding on the outside hints that P.S. 186 may finally be getting its makeover.

Nathan Kensinger has incredible photos of the outside and interior of the ghostly, eerie school, taken in 2009.

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12 Responses to “The sad remains of a Harlem grammar school”

  1. Beth Says:

    So unfortunate the state of this building. Apparently preservationists want it used for adaptive reuse purposes but the community board hasn’t been all that proactive about it. http://harlembespoke.blogspot.com/2012/05/dwell-comparing-ps90-and-ps186.html

    I’d love to get in there and shoot like Nathan Kensinger did.

  2. Ivan Says:

    I live about five blocks from P.S. 186, and its condition is sad (although it is a magnificent ruin). I would love to see it utilized, but I worry that it will be turned into some sort of “exclusive” high-priced something-or-other that would completely change the tone of neighborhood. BTW, the best Mexican food truck regularly parks across the street from PS 186 on 145th St.

  3. Upstate Ellen Says:

    I can’t believe this beautiful structure has been allowed to deteriorate to its present condition. Sad. At this point, I think that just about any reuse of the building would be better than having it torn down.

  4. Junk Man Says:

    These pictures make me wonder how long it would be before a hypothetically abandoned NYC would start to look like the island sold to Peter Minuit.

  5. Jerry Villanueva Says:

    Such a sad story for a great school and dedicated teachers. I lived on 143rd St. and started at the school in the 3rd grade. Completed grade six in 1949 and then on to JHS 43.

    • Roger Jones Says:

      I was in the 3rd grade in 1950 at P.S. 186 and I lived on 144th St. around the corner for three years.

      • Jessica M. Says:

        Good morning! I am a Columbia graduate student at the Journalism school/native NYer and I’m doing a story on PS 186. Would you former students of the school have or be willing to share, rather, a few minutes of your time to talk to me today or tomorrow? My cell: 917.692.4940 and my email jtm2159@columbia.edu Thank you and I hope this finds you well! (my name is Jessica Mullin)

  6. Nancy Delgado Krelios Says:

    I attended the school from kinder to 5th grade, 1968. It had great teachers who cared about the kids. I still remember all my teacher’s names and hold great memories about this school

  7. Jesse Rosenberg Says:

    My mother attended PS 186 in the 1930s, and remembers it vividly. But I’ve been unable to discover the location of the next school she attended, Junior High School 43, in the same neighborhood. I have a feeling that it wasn’t the same building now used for JHS 43 (also known as Adam Clayton Powell JHS). Does anyone know the address of the original building of JHS 43, and its ultimate fate?

  8. RD Wolff Says:

    The terracotta bust of Minerva in a niche on the facade is extremely unique and unusual, I am astounded that they put this on the facade of a school, there must be a story behind it long lost as to whom specified it and why because this was very atypical, normally if they were going to install such a figural bust on a building like this it would have been a portrait of someone from history or someone important or beloved from contemporary times. One would more likely expect to see a portrait of someone such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or in the case of this school; perhaps a portrait of the city mayor or governor of the state.

    The majority of these old schools built from around 1895 into the late 20s or so were designed by Charles B. J. Snyder. He came up with the innovative “H” shaped floor plan to allow maximum light to the rooms as well as providing two courts that could be used for playgrounds, but his style for the facades was a collegiate gothic, so it makes me wonder if someone else was the architect of this school.

    But wow, that bust of Minerva is stunning! a lot of modelling time went into the creation of that sculpture, and since I have never seen another one like it on any other school, it is possible this one was not made in a mold as was typical for making multiple copies from, but this might be the ORIGINAL sculpture since there appears to only be one on the building.

  9. Rosa Toledo Says:

    1958 My first school. It was beautiful and my teachers were great , what a shame that the city abandoned this monumental building.

    • Jessica M. Says:

      Rosa, my name is Jessica and I’m a graduate student at Columbia U. I’m doing a piece on this building and Harlem. Would you want to share your memories with me? I can get on the phone today or if you’re in NYC, maybe we can get coffee? My email: jtm2159@columbia.edu and cell 917.692.4940. Thank you! -Jess

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