HomeChinese AmericanRally held to save historic building in NY Chinatown

Rally held to save historic building in NY Chinatown

Rally to save PS 23, an historic Chinatown building. Photo by Corky Lee

Protesters rallied in Manhattan Chinatown Saturday to protest the planned demolition of the historic PS 23 Building. They hoped to put pressure on city officials to follow through on their promise to commit $80 million to restore the building which housed five Asian American non-profits.

The rally was organized by Karlin Chan, an independent community activist and founder of Chinatown Blockwatch. Many participants, the majority of whom were local Chinatown residents, displayed signs that said “Save PS 23” or “Stop Demolition Now!”. The city’s plan to completely demolish the building is one of several controversial construction projects in Chinatown.

PS23 rally Amy Chin on megaphone next to Karlin Chan Sept 2020
Karlin Chan is seen second from Left. Amy Chin is to the left of Chan along with Richard Moses from Lower Eastside Preservation Initiative, a non profit (black t shirt). Photo by Corky Lee.

“This is not our only headache”, Chan exclaimed to the crowd of a few dozen protesters. “We have a headache at 125 White. If they tear that building down and build a new jail. If that project goes forward, this whole area is screwed”. Pointing to a building across the street from PS 23, Chan continued, “Plans have been filed to build a 13-story hotel. We are talking three major demolition and construction projects within two blocks. We are in a heck of a lot of trouble in Chinatown especially coming out of a pandemic”.

The PS 23 building, which is often referred to by its address “70 Mulberry”, is a red brick building located at the intersection of Mulberry Street and Bayard Street. The building, constructed in the late 19th century, was once a public school and is considered a cultural landmark. All five tenants of the building are Asian American nonprofits: Chinese American Planning Council, Chinatown Manpower Project, Chen and Dancers, Museum of Chinese in America(MOCA) and the United East Athletics Association.

“This building means a lot to Chinatown. It means a lot to generations before it and means a lot to this city. It is part of the fabric of New York City.”, says Amy Chin, president of Think!Chinatown, a local civic engagement organization.

According to photojournalist Corky Lee, some of the people who attended the rally also attended the school once housed at the site.

PS23 rally3 Sept 2020
Photo by Corky Lee

A fire this year damaged a large portion of the building including the portion leased by MOCA where an estimated 85,000 archive items such as old Chinese American newspapers and postcards may have been irreparably damaged.

As reported in AsAmNews, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio promised to restore the publicly-owned building during a visit to Chinatown the day after the fire. However, at a community board meeting in May, a city agency which administers the building, announced that the entire building would be totally demolished and replaced. This announcement was taken as a complete shock by the local community as neither the displaced tenants nor Chinatown residents were consulted in the decision-making process. The five tenants issued an open letter to the city highlighting their desire for the building to be restored as quickly as possible and for the new building to retain aspects of the original building.

Adding to the controversy, some people want to construct a 20-story tower to replace the original building. This proposal has received considerable backlash. Speaking through a megaphone, Chin explained, “A 20-story tower would take twice as much time to build and would destabilize surrounding buildings. We say no to a 20-story tower on this corner. We are for preserving the remaining structure and also preserving the tenants that were in this building. We call on the city to restore and rebuild this historic schoolhouse in the heart of Chinatown. This is our history and we need to preserve it.”

PS23 rally3 Sept 2020
Photo by Corky Lee

More information on the fight to save 70 Mulberry, including the eight advocacy goals, can be found on the Think!Chinatown website.

At the end of the rally, Chin reminded everyone to attend the virtual Community Board 3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee on Tuesday, September 15 at 6:30pm. She emphasized the importance of not only attending but of actively participating and asking questions to show the number of people who care about this issue. “Make the city know that we are watching their every step.”, Chin said, concluding her speech. The rally ended at around 1:30pm but many people lingered for another thirty minutes to network with other activists and discuss plans for further community engagement on this issue.

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