Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Schools Of C.B.J. Snyder

A wonderful article from the nytimes of 10/18 New York: A Builder of Dreams, in Brick and Mortar by Jim Dwyer The images from the slide show above come from the multimedia
linked to the article. The audio, Everything Old Is New Again, from David Kenney's radio show on WBAI The lyrics follow the article. BTW, KV's PS 177 was a Snyder school. It's too bad Snyder's schools aren't new again. They deserve to be.
The question was put to a class from a Brooklyn high school: Had they ever given a moment’s thought to their school building? The quick answers were no, no, no. Then: “Huge windows,” said Justin Statia. “I wondered why the hallways are so thin,” said Gaston Ovando. “It’s old,” said Hanifah Presley. “My granduncle went here.” The students attend the Academy for Young Writers, a small program housed in Junior High School 50 on South Third Street in Williamsburg. The building opened in 1915, so for these students — and for tens of thousands of others at schools across the city — a hand from the distant past shapes their daily pilgrimages. At the turn of the 20th century, one man, Charles B. J. Snyder, designed and supervised the construction of 400 public schools in New York. The one on South Third Street is among 270 Snyder buildings still in use, a roster that includes such majestic presences as Curtis High School in Staten Island, Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, Morris High School in the Bronx and the old DeWitt Clinton High School, now occupied by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in Manhattan.
Though Snyder’s vision has been part of the lives of tens of millions of schoolchildren, few people know of him or of his role in transforming New York. He died in 1945 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, his death unnoted in The New York Times. It took a newcomer to the city to discover a forgotten genius. Three years ago, Jean Arrington, her children grown, gave up a tenured position at a college in Raleigh, N.C., and moved to New York. She spent the summer of 2005 looking for a job in the public schools. “I was amazed by these school buildings,” Ms. Arrington said. “We didn’t have anything like this where I grew up, in Montgomery, Ala.” In libraries, she found little on the buildings, almost nothing on the architect. At the Municipal Archives, she read annual reports filed by Snyder during the 31 years he served as superintendent of school buildings. She visited every Snyder building. And she pieced together a narrative of epic accomplishment that began in 1891 with the firing of a school architect who had been charged with corruption. To replace him, the Board of Education turned to Snyder, a slight man of 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7, a descendant of Dutch settlers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was 31 years old. For the next three decades, until his retirement in 1922, Snyder presided over the greatest expansion of schools in the nation’s history. It was not uncommon for him to open more schools in a single year than existed in most other American cities. His buildings were big enough to hold the waves of immigrants flooding into the city, to have indoor play areas for the kids and auditoriums for the community, and light and air, the values of an age made real in brick, mortar and steel. “New York has one of those rare men who open windows for the soul of their time,” the journalist Jacob Riis wrote of Snyder in his 1902 book “The Battle With the Slum.” “He found barracks, where he is leaving palaces to the people.” Under Snyder, 60 percent of the building exteriors were made up of windows, double what had been the standard; many of these were 10 feet high. If only for sheer mass, his buildings dominated the neighborhoods, but they were also distinctive for their elegance, incorporating elements of the Beaux-Arts, Flemish Renaissance, Italian palazzo and Collegiate Gothic styles, Ms. Arrington notes. “His story possessed me,” said Ms. Arrington, who is now at work — without a publisher or a contract — on a book about Snyder’s life and times. “Snyder insisted that all N.Y.C. public schools be built of fireproof materials, and he developed an interlocking type of stairwells, such that the buildings could be emptied within three minutes,” she writes in the book. “His schools included new features reformers were pushing for, such as auditoriums with projection rooms and organs, space for public art, laboratories, vocational training facilities, gymnasiums, swimming pools and roof playgrounds. The buildings were designed also to accommodate new after-school activities like recreation classes and evening lectures.” In May 1922, Snyder retired. He had not had a vacation since 1904. “I am tired and completely worn out,” he said, according to an article in The Times. He slipped from the public eye. In 1945, Snyder, 85, and one of his sons were asphyxiated in an accident involving a kerosene stove at a house in Babylon, on Long Island. He was buried in a family plot in Woodlawn, but without a stone. His great-granddaughter Cindy LaValle, 60, said the family was apparently short of money at the time. Over the years, she said, family lore about her great-grandfather has been limited to artifacts, like his silver or a clock. “I never heard what a great man he was,” she said. Through an article by Christopher Gray in The Times, Ms. Arrington connected with Snyder’s descendants. A few days ago, they arranged a bus to take them to Woodlawn Cemetery, to unveil a gravestone. Then they drove across the city, finding his legacy in every neighborhood.

by Peter Allen
When trumpets were mellow
And every gal only had one fellow
No need to remember when
'Cause everything old is new again
Dancin' at church, Long Island jazzy parties
Waiter bring us some more Baccardi
We'll order now what they ordered then
'Cause everything old is new agian
Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let's go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed
Don't throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Put it on backwards when forward fails
Better leave Greta Garbo alone
Be a movie star on your own
And do-on't throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again
I might fa-all in love wi-ith you again

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although Jean Arrington discovered Snyder on her recent relocation to NYC, I have been researching and writing about his work for many years. See chapter 2 "Dawn of a New Century: C.B.J. Snyder, Master Builder and Art Patron," in my book, Public Art for Public Schools (The Monacelli Press, 2009).
Michele Cohen