Designation Testimony

Testimony for Proposed (Former) Colored School No. 4 Individual Landmark


(Former) Colored School No. 4 – 128 West 17th Street


A three-story school building built 1849-50 by the Public School Society of New York City and used by African American students and teachers from 1860 to 1894. 

As the citywide advocate for New York’s architectural, historical and cultural neighborhoods and buildings, HDC enthusiastically supports the designation of The (Former) Colored School No. 4 as an individual landmark.

HDC has been proud to support historian Eric K. Washington’s years-long effort to achieve landmark recognition for this site, and we look forward to seeing that effort come to fruition.

In addition to the building’s merits on its own, we strongly believe that this designation aligns with the agency’s own goals from the LPC’s 2021 Equity Framework, which promised that the agency would “ensure diversity and inclusion in designations.”

Built between 1849-1850, and serving as a school for Black students from 1860-1894, this building is the last extant Colored School building in Manhattan. The space not only meaningfully reflects aspects of the Black experience in mid-late 19th Century New York – including Black community building, abolitionist advocacy, and suffragist organizing – but also stands as a potent testament to the city’s history of segregated education, and white racial terror.

Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet stands out among the many illustrious Black New Yorkers who learned and taught here. One of the first Black female principals in the New York City Public School system, Garnet was also a noted suffragist who founded the Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn, the nation’s first women’s suffrage organization founded by and for Black women. As principal of Colored School No. 4, Garnet stood firm during the 1863 draft riots, protecting her students from a white mob.

Today, the Colored School No. 4 building retains its architectural integrity, including its 25-foot wide four-bay façade, large multi-pane windows, and two separate entries at the ground floor, illustrative of New York’s pre-Civil War Model Primary School House plan.

Distressingly, the building has begun to suffer water damage. We understand that the building’s current steward, DSNY, is in support of landmarking and protecting the building, but is not in a position to allocate resources to mitigate water damage.

LPC must move with the greatest possible urgency to Landmark Colored School No. 4 in order to help secure structural protection for the building itself, and to ensure that the site’s extraordinary history remains visible as part of the physical fabric of New York.

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