2. P.S. 72 | Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center

Lexington Avenue

The first school building in New York City to take up a full block, and one of the first public schools in East Harlem, was built in 1882 at 1680 Lexington Avenue. This four story red brick school building, called Grammar School No. 72, was designed by David I. Stagg who spent over fifty years working in public school architecture and served as the Superintendent of Public School Buildings for the New York City Board of Education from 1872 to 1886. The neo-Greco style of the building is typical of schools from the 1870s to 1880s and it is one of the last surviving examples from that period. Due to overcrowding, many additions were added to the school throughout the years including one addition designed by C.B.J. Snyder who was the architect of the nearby P.S. 109.

By March 1975, a major decline in enrollment led to the closure of P.S. 72. For most of the ensuing decades, the school remained abandoned. The structure was briefly used by Touro College for classrooms and for office space by the East Harlem Council for Community Improvement in 1980. In 1987, the building was vacated in preparation for the construction of a transitional shelter which was never completed, leaving the building empty until 1994.

In 1994 architects Lee Barrero and Raymond Plumey began the restoration work which would convert the 19th century schoolhouse into the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center. The center, named after a prominent Puerto Rican poet and activist who died in Harlem, is a “latino artistic, cultural, educational and civic space that seeks to promote and enhance the quality of life in East Harlem through exhibits, performances, film screenings, special events, community engagements, facility rentals and educational programs.” After extensive renovations the building now contains a 164-seat theater and a multi-purpose pavilion.

After hurricanes devastated parts of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida in late 2017, the Julia de Burgos Center opened its doors to victims seeking support from various government offices as well as from representatives from the American Red Cross, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, Animal Care and Control and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.