Public School 48 (now P75Q at P.S. 48, The Robert E. Peary School) ‐ 155‐02 108th Avenue
ITEM PROPOSED FOR PUBLIC HEARING
An Art Deco style school building designed by Walter C. Martin first proposed in 1931 and constructed 1932‐1936.
P.S. 48 was one of twenty-four schools constructed in New York during the 1930s as part of the Public Works Administration program . All schools were built on city-owned property, with the federal government providing $25 million in funds for their construction. These schools provided 50,000 new seats and were designed in an array of architectural styles, to “relieve the monotony of standardization” and thought to be of educational value to students of art and literature. The first of these federally-funded schools to open was Bayside High School in Queens (extant).
P.S. 48 followed a basic formula of all public schools built in New York City during this era, with a focus on modernization and thrift: cornices and ornamental projections were eliminated from designs to save costs on the copper flashing which these features required. This “so-called modernistic” style of architecture, as the New York Times described it, embodied a “strict adherence to simplicity.” This style is evident at P.S. 48, which is a rectangular, symmetrical building with sparely applied ornament. The ornament is concentrated at the entrances, with door surrounds of flattened eagles separated by stylized anthemions, surmounted by a dancette course. At the west end, the first-floor spandrel above the entrance features a terra cotta panel of a book depicting knowledge, radiating light. The west and east sides of the school feature roundels of stylized “P.S. 48”, the New York State seal, and a book and torch surrounded by laurel wreaths. The building terminates in piers of decorative terra cotta capitals in quintessential Art Deco frozen fountain motifs.
The architect for P.S. 48, Walter S. Martin, was also the architect for the Board of Education. Martin designed dozens of schools during the Great Depression both as a part of the PWA school building program and for the LaGuardia administration. In addition to the schools paid for by the federal government, in 1936, Mayor LaGuardia allocated $25 million of the City’s capital budget to construct schools in Queens to relieve the “present congested and overcrowded conditions in many sections of the borough, which have necessitated triple sessions in some of the schools.”
HDC encourages the LPC to examine the vast portfolio of Martin’s schools and prioritize more for designation—especially the Samuel Gompers Industrial High School in the South Bronx. Most of his schools are extant and survive in a high degree of integrity like P.S. 48. Martin is the C.B.J. Snyder of the New Deal, and his legacy should be preserved.
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