CHELSEA, Manhattan (PIX11) – A former segregated school building for Black children in Manhattan was designated a landmark Tuesday and will undergo a multi-million dollar rehabilitation, city officials announced.
The former “Colored School No. 4,” located at 128 West 17th St. in Chelsea, was designated an individual landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The nearly 175-year-old building was built between 1849 and 1850. It is the only known surviving school building that exclusively served Black children in Manhattan during the era of racial segregation, according to the commission.
“Spanning the period between the Civil War through the Post-Reconstruction era, the former Colored School No. 4 is an important reminder of racially segregated education in New York City and illustrates how education afforded crucial opportunities and skills to Black students as they struggled against the discrimination and inequities that were part of their daily life,” the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote.
Landmark designation will ensure that the building is protected from demolition or significant alterations, preserving its architectural and historic features, according to New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher.
Mayor Eric Adams announced that New York City will provide $6 million in funding to rehabilitate some of the building’s deterioration.
“As the second Black mayor in New York City history, the significance of this landmark designation is not lost on me, and I am proud we are investing $6 million to rehabilitate (Former) Colored School No. 4 so that this painful, yet important, piece of history is preserved,” Adams said in a statement. “Historic sites like this are crucial reminders of those who came before us, whose courage and ambition helped shape our city and chart the course to becoming the incredible city we are today.”
Historian and author Eric K. Washington fought to make sure the school’s story was not forgotten. In 2018, he filed a formal request with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for the building to be designated a landmark.
“Throughout most of the 19th century, public schools run by the Board of Education were segregated,” Washington said. “There are woefully too few sites throughout the city that pay homage and educate us about the African American experience.”
Washington hopes a museum and community center will eventually open at the former school building.
“It was kind of a joyfully, eerie feeling when I went inside. I can sort of imagine the laughter,” Washington said.
PIX11’s Greg Mocker contributed to this report.