Students in social studies teacher David Edelman’s class at Union Square Academy for Health Sciences High School, working with the Chair of Manhattan Community Board 6, are petitioning the New York City Landmark’s Commission to grant the interior lobby of the historic Washington Irving High School building landmark status. The Washington Irving Campus is located at 40 Irving Place between East 16th and 17th Streets in Manhattan, near Union Square.
You an sign their Change.org petition to support the campaign.
According to their petition, Washington Irving High School began operating at this location in 1913 after a student-led protest demanded the city use the site for an all-girls technical high school. The school’s facilities and instructional practices received worldwide recognition and it was prominently featured in National Geographic and Time Magazine and written about by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who visited the school and spoke in the auditorium. On March 27, 1938, in her daily newspaper column, Ms. Roosevelt described her visit to Washington Irving.
“I took the 8 a.m. train this morning to New York, for I had promised to speak at 1.15 at Washington Irving High School. They certainly are crowded in those New York schools. When I arrived at the door there were children standing all around the steps and outside on the walk. I was told that some 1700 could get inside the auditorium while 6000 attend the school. It was a very interesting occasion, for I had been asked by the Pan-American League to address the school where they were celebrating Pan-American Day. I found that a great number of these youngsters are studying Spanish. As I looked at the eager sea of young faces before me, I had the curious feeling that youthful audiences so often give me. There is a desire to know and to hear and yet a veiled challenge, an apparent question in their minds as to whether you have anything to give them. I always like to talk with interested and alert young people, and I wish that speeches might be changed to conversations, for both sides get so much more out of it when it is possible to have an interchange of opinion.”
Washington Irving’s initial course offerings included housekeeping, nursing, marketing, care of babies, laundering, embroidery, plain sewing, garment making, costume designing, drawing, illustrating, plain and fancy cooking, entertaining, sanitation, picture hanging, telephoning, dancing, stair-climbing, typewriting, bookkeeping, salesmanship, office management, bookbinding, cataloguing, commercial filing, printing, photography, gardening, newspaper writing, in addition to regular academic subjects.
The interior public spaces of the Washington Irving Campus are among the most impressive in any New York City school. They consist of a two-story foyer with a mezzanine balcony, and a large sky-lit auditorium that contain four separate mural projects.
Lobby murals were painted by American artist Barry Faulkner between 1917 and 1920 and depict the history of New Amsterdam. Later in his career, Faulkner produced two massive murals for the rotunda of the National Archives building in Washington DC. Murals in the auditorium were painted by Robert Knight Ryland and J. Mortimer Lichtenauer and murals in the stairwell by Salvatore Lascari
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is responsible for identifying and designating the special buildings and sites that represent the architectural, historical and cultural heritage of New York City. The Commission’s Research Department accepts suggestions from the public regarding potential historic resources throughout the five boroughs. If a property appears to rise to the level of significance necessary to be considered for Landmark designation, the agency may conduct additional research, and may recommend it for consideration by the Commission.
The campaign by Union Square Academy for Health Sciences HighSchool is a model for student civic activism.
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