Harlem - P.S. 186


March 30. 2009 -

PS 186 is a somber ruin looming over a busy Harlem street. Opened in 1903, this elementary school was shuttered in 1975. According to a 2005 WNYC piece "it’s been thirty years since PS 186 in Harlem was closed because of its dilapidated conditions. The neglected building has been rotting away ever since." The New York Landmarks Conservancy describes PS 186's current condition as "poor" - inside the building, trees have taken root, floors are collapsing, birds have found refuge, and yet the auditorium is filled with upright chairs. A 2007 New York Sun article promised that "development plans are emerging" but, unlike the work being done at nearby PS 90, there is no evidence that PS 186 is being redeveloped by its owners, the ML Wilson Boys and Girls Club, despite a promise made in 1986 to create a community center in the space. Like the abandoned Renaissance Ballroom nearby, PS 186 is an eloquent reminder of the Harlem's long and sometimes troubled history.

Additional images by photographers on this expedition are at Bluejake and Impose Magazine.


Courtyard View



Auditorium



Upright Rows



Top Floor



Stairwell Sunlight



Rectangles



Classroom, Snow, Trees



Korean Graffiti



Blackboard Jungle



Arches, Portal, Sunlight



Street View

36 comments:

  1. I live near here. It's a palatial, beautiful Italianate structure and would be a great building for a community center, offices or housing. Instead, there was a plan to knock it down and build some (no doubt shoddily built and hideous) condo towers. Don't know if that plan's still in the works.

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  2. I live a block away on Riverside....and this building is truly beautiful. I hope the owners stay committed in renovating it (eventually). I would hate to see a condo built. I am 30 years old and have lived in the area my entire life...we need a community center.

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  3. Also...this building has been abandoned for more than 30 years. My sister is 41 years old, and she recalls this building being abandoned when she was a little girl.

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  4. I lived on this block for 3 years, wonderful (well, sort of)to see the interiors. Hopefully someone can get their act together--I imagine this was a gorgeous building back in the day.

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  5. Nice work here Nate, beautiful photos also. Its a shame to see the elements getting into this building like that, it wont last very long if it keeps up.

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  6. I was in the first 5th grade class to graduate from PS 186 in 1965. These photos bring back such wonderful memories. I also have some photos from that time period. For years, as a keepsake I owned a lunch bench from the cafeteria after the school closed. In moving, I have lost it. I loved this school. They offered afterschool programs, summer programs, and a place to play when I was a child. There was a sprinkler system in the yard for children to play in the summer. It would make a great community center.

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    1. Hi there! I am a grad student at Columbia and I'm doing a story on this building. I'm trying to find students who went there--would you consider calling me 917.692.4940 or emailing me? jtm2159@columbia.edu Thank you and I hope you are well! -Jessica M.

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  7. I graduated from PS 186 in 1971. I believe my 5th grade class was the first to hold public demonstrations to have the school closed down. The teachers took the students outside on 145th Street and we marched and chanted. The photos bring back a lot of really nice memories. It's a shame that our fight to have a new school built (PS 153), would mean that this beautiful building would be left deteriorating 34 years later.

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    1. Hi there! I am a grad student at Columbia and I'm doing a story on this building. I'm trying to find students who went there--would you consider calling me 917.692.4940 or emailing me? jtm2159@columbia.edu Thank you and I hope you are well! -Jessica M.

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  8. To Mr. Kensinger and all others who read this. There was a community board 9 meeting on Tuesday, December 15th and it was made clear that the ML Wilson Boys and Girls Club are pushing to demolish the building and build a housing tower on the site. The plans they presented last month was a 14 story high rise. The architect they have hired is the architect of 3333 Broadway, which is the huge complex at Broadway and 135th street (south west corner), images are available if you Google it. There is a Preservation Committee of Community Board 9 and they are aiming to get the building landmarked, this will also be decided in January. The email regarding the meeting which was on the 15th is as follows:
    From: "Tom O'Brian"
    Date: December 12, 2009 11:30:05 EST
    To: undisclosed recipients: ;
    Subject: Fw: Update on Boys & Girls Club PS186

    Save PS186, the abandoned school on 145/146th Street between Amsterdam & Broadway from Demolition!
    The owner, Harlem Girls & Boys Club (Chair: Shirley Lewis,1st Vice Chair: Victor Ekperigin) are working together with the architect Richard Dattner who gave us 3333 Broadway, the worst eyesore in the neighborhood.
    Dismissing all community concerns they are planning to demolish the building and replace it with an oversized, unimaginative building. They need our approval for a zoning change to do so.

    Disapprove and voice your concerns!
    Come to the next zoning meeting at Community Board 9, Tuesday, December 15, 6:30pm at Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive at 140th Street (please forward to your neighbors)

    also send email to:
    aburden@planning.nyc.gov
    ehsuch@planning.nyc.gov
    emarsha@planning.nyc.gov
    m_cerezo@planning.nyc.gov
    bp@manhattanbp.org
    aborelli@manhattanbp.org
    robertjackson05@aol.com
    perkins@senate.state.ny.us
    wrightk@assembly.state.ny.us
    Jim.Capel@mail.house.gov
    I have no experience in this type of struggle but hope that we can stop the demolition and maybe possibly have a more community interested group take over ownership.

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  9. I graduated from the 5th grade in 1974. The school was falling apart we actually had class in several moblie classrooms that last year. It was very dangerous to enter the bulding. This building holds some many precious childhood memories; it wouls be a shame to let this great building be demolished. I pass by if i'm in the area. It would be sorely missd if it was gone.

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  10. I agree that this is beautiful building and I am sad to be apart of this project. I work in construction and the plans have just made it to my desk that a full demolition of the building will soon be taking place. Sorry to deliver the bad news...

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  11. It is a shame that they let such a beautiful bulding rot away. I graduated from there in the mid 60's. I lived 2 doors down from the school. It should be saved and turned into a community center which is much needed.

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  12. I love your phots , I am making a scrapbook of harlem now nd then to save for the future , These pics will mean so much one day,I am not sure how you have access to these condemned buildings, but may I suggest considering the old St Lukes hospital. St Lukes on 116th street, (at least a 4 years ago), had special hallways and pathways that led to the old hospital that has been closed for decades , its quite a sight. I only know as I was a medical resident who would explore on my bored days.

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  13. Mr. Kensinger,

    I am a new resident to the Manhattan area and fell in love with the structure of PS 186 as I passed the abandoned building. As a child, I attended PS 181Q - The Brookville School in Rosedale, NY. I remembered my childhood experiences at my childhood elementary school and immediately began to envision the renovation of this building hence housing the children in the area.

    It is very sad to see the building in the state of ruin. I hope I can contribute to the "rebirth" of PS 186.

    Prudence Reid

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Hi Michael E. I believe you and I were in the same classes at PS 186. I lived two buildings up the street. It was great to see your post. Wanda T.

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  16. I attended PS 186 from 1943 thru 1945 and have fond memories of it. I also attended a Greek Language School that was provided after normal school hours from 3:30 PM to 5 PM om M/W/F. I can recall the sliding walls that existed in our classroom that would enable our class to become part of an auditorium style for general communications.

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  17. Hi my name is Phillip. I am a design student in San Diego California and have fallen in love with this building through pictures I have found on the internet. I have decided to use it as my senior thesis and would love to ask anyone who attended the school some questions about the interior. If you will be willing to email me back it would mean the world to me. Thank you al in advance. pdockery@disd.edu

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  18. I graduated from 5th grade from P.S. 186. Much of my family still lives in the community and when I visited the area in 2011, I stopped and looked at the building. It brought back many wonderful childhood memories. I love the photography and have always wished that the school would be renovated and used as a community center rather than torn down and something else built in the space.

    I am also looking to find anyone who attended the school between 1966 and 1971. I am a multi-media producer and would be interested in doing a documentary of the building, its impact on the people and community. email me at dunbarwalker@gmail.com

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    1. Dear Michael,
      I graduated from PS 186 in 1967. Mrs. King was my teacher and Mr. Rosenberg was the principal. These were my teahers:
      Mrs. Rosenberg - kindergarten - 1962
      Mrs. Henry - 1st Grade - 1963
      Mrs. Stein - 2nd Grade - 1964
      Mrs. Danson - 3rd Grade - 1964
      Mr. Gibson - 4th Grade - 1965
      Mrs. King - 5th Grade - 1966

      As you can see, I am 55 years old and still remember each and everyone of my teachers. They were the best dedicated teachers I've ever had and I was a handful! Too bad the education and teachers of today don't match up to the ones of yesteryear.
      Nancy Delgado Krelios
      Class of 67
      N.Krelios@yahoo.com

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  19. I went to P.S.186 back in 1970 to 1973.Thank you for posting the pictures,I was finally able to show my grandchildren where I went to school.

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  20. Sorry to hear the fate of such a great school. I attended 186 in the 1960's. Great times, great teachers that cared. No security at the door, or metal detectors. I'm surprised the city has not come to the rescue of this great gem.We certainly do not need another condo, that most harlem residents can not afford.

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  21. maritamatairock@yahoo.comJuly 7, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    We were 4 in my Family that went to school at P.S.186 from 1968 to 1974 back when Miss Tozoni was Prencible. I love the way she walked in them Heels all day. My favorit place in the school was the long silver stair case on the front left entrance. I remember all the women that worked in the lunch room, Because they lived on my street 151. And they were always nice to me and my brother. The first time we had Chocolate milk one of them gave us two. My Teacher Miss Bromly. With 6 pennys my brother and I could buy two cartons of milk and 12 cookies at recess. I remember so many things from going to this school and these pictures just make me so HAPPY and Yet so SAD. P.S. 186 and the people that made it fun THANK YOU FOR THR GREAT TIMES. God Bless

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  22. I was a teacher from 1963-1968 at PS 186. I have fond memories for both the students and faculty at 186. The pictures brought back many fabulous memories,

    Thank you,

    Mr. D

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  23. Just come back from visiting Mom.
    Born in 1919, evacuated from Florida after The Great Hurricane, she and her brother were educated here between 1930 +1935. I have just read through their school reports. I have their badges and their honors too.
    We live in England and some of our buildings go back over a thousand years. Come on USA pull your socks up. You also have a fabulous heritage. Can't get a USA passport, please don't throw away the little connection we have left.

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  24. I graduated from there in 1972 i never thought i would see the inside again it brings back so many memories

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  25. this building has been abandoned for more than 30 years. My sister is 41 years old, and she recalls this building being abandoned when she was a little girl. plumber laverne

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  26. MY NAME IS CHARLENE AND I WENT TO PS 186 FROM KINDER-
    GARTEN UNTIL I GRADUATED FROM PS 186. I AM NOW 61 YEARS OLD. I REMEMBER MY FIRST DAY MY TEACHER'S NAME WAS MISS NURSE. SHE WAS WONDERFUL I HAD THE MOST WONDERFUL TEACHERS YOU COULD IMAGINE. THEY WERE MORE LIKE MOTHER TO ALL OF US. MY FAVORITE TEACHER WAS VERA CLARKE, MISS CLARKE WAS THE MOST DEDICATED TEACHER I HAVE EVER KNOWN. SHE BOUGHT OUT THE BEST IN ME SHE MADE ME WANT TO MAKE HER PROUD. I REMEMBER ON THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL I CRIED ALL THE WAY HOME BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO MISS HER SO MUCH, IT BRINGS TEARS TO MY EYES AS I AM WRITING THIS. I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW IF MISS CLARKE IS STILL AROUND. MY CLASS WAS 5-2 AND MISS CLARKE PROMOTED ME TO 6-1 WHICH WAS THE SMARTEST 6TH GRADE CLASS! I ATTRIBUTE MY LOVE FOR LEARNING TO HER, SHE MADE IT A FUN EXPERIENCE. SHE WAS ALSO NO NONSENSE. I HAD OTHER TEACHERS I ADMIRED ALSO LIKE MISS FREEHILL IN THE 4TH GRADE.I REMEMBER MISS STEIN FONDLY ALSO. IF ANYONE KNOWS WHERE MISS CLARKE IS PLEASE EMAIL ME AT willingboro2003@yahoo.com IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS MY NAME WAS CHARLENE YOUNG I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH LAWRENCE SMITH JACKIE SAWYER ANITA MONTEIRO DMITRI HAMILTON YOLANDA COLON THE DEAN SISTER DEBORAH TANYA VERONICA CONSUELO AND YOLANDA. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!

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  27. Hi,
    I was a teacher at PS 186 from 1963-1970. It was a wonderful place for me to begin my teaching career. The students and faculty were fantastic. Among the teachers I worked with were Mrs Henry, Mr. Gibson,Mr. Hess,Miss Dulsky, Miss Ballard,Mr. Desatnik,Mr. Menakian,Miss Mound, Miss Cypres, Mrs. Gibson,Mrs. King and Mr. Nailor. i realy loved my time at 186.
    Regards to all.

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    1. I attended P.S.186 from 1956-1963 kindergarten to sixth grade. My most significant teachers were Ms.Nurse (kindergarten) Ms.Simpson(2nd grade) Ms.Heit (3rd Grade) and Ms.White(6th grade). I have fond memories of these teachers and remember others such as Mr.Nailor, Mr.Hayes and a handful of others whose faces I'll remember if not their names. I lived on W.146th St. and travel by that area 3 to 4 times yearly as a pilgrimage to my former community, Macedonia Baptist Church, Troop 756( Boy Scouts), Minisink Cadets, Hamilton Grange Pre-School Program( W. 147th St and RSD), the RKO Hamilton Grange movie theater(.Bway&146th), the Dorset Movie theater(Bway&147th-148thSt) and the Hamilton Grange Library(W.145th St.). It was Sugar Hill at its best. It saddens me to see P.S.186 in this condition ....it's a monument to my childhood.

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  28. Seeing the pictures of PS 186 reminded me of the school I went to PS 184 which looked just like 186 but was taken down back in 1969 about a year after we where moved to PS 207. When I checked where they keep old photos for the city, they pulled up the information on both school buildings plus the blue prints and they could pass for twins. I would be nice if PS 186 where restored.

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  29. 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.

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  30. Mr. Desatnik was my 4th grade teacher. He took his students on field trips. He exposed me to the arts what a wonderful thing. I remember going to Lincoln Center and Carnegie hall. He opened my mind there was no telling where I could go next. I knew then that the world was at my finger tips and I was going.

    Mrs. Kahn dressed like a model that just left the runway. She looked a little like Marlo Thomas. Mrs. Kahn gave me a template of what a lady should look like and wear. She was a awesome teacher.

    I gapped on to what these 2 teachers were giving. They poured their hearts into us at PS 186 Man. I tell everyone even til today what lovely teachers you both were to me and I am 56 years old.

    Thank You So Much Mr. Desatnik & Mrs. Kahn

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  31. Dear Gail,
    It was great hearing from you. PS 186 was the highlight of my teaching career. The students were fantastic and 186 will always hold a special place in my heart. Just this morning my wife and I were looking at old pictures. We came across a class picture from 1966 and it brought back wonderful memories. The trips you mentioned were fantastic and great learning experiences. I am thrilled that they played such important part in your life. I would be extremely happy if you would get back to me and let me know about your life and if you keep in touch with any former students from 186.. As for myself, I became a principal in Newark, New Jersey and also taught college courses in education for many years. Presently I am working with students who have autism and aspergers. My job is to get them ready for college. Again thank you for thinking of me and I am anxiously waiting for your reply.
    \Marty Desatnik

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