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Sold! ‘Philanthropic entity’ now officially owns the old P.S. 64

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | It’s official. There finally is a new owner of the East Village’s old P.S. 64. Exactly who that owner is, though — well, no one is saying. …

On Monday, Denham Wolf Real Estate Services, a real estate adviser serving the nonprofit community, announced, in a brief press release, that 605 E. Ninth St. has been purchased by “a philanthropic entity with the purpose of returning the property to community use.”

“The new owner,” the statement said, “is committed to ensuring that the landmarked building becomes and remains an integral part of the surrounding neighborhoods.

“605 E. Ninth St. has been vacant for 25 years, and substantial time and resources are needed to restore the building. The new owner intends to initiate a process that will achieve its long-term goal of returning 605 E. Ninth St. to community use. The process will include input from members of the community.”

Paul Wolf, Denham Wolf’s managing principal and C.E.O., said, “We are thrilled to be supporting the return of 605 E. Ninth St. to community use. We look forward to working with the new owner to achieve its goals for the building.”

Although the philanthropic entity is being referred to as “it,” it’s widely believed local hedge-fund “angel investor” Aaron Sosnick is behind the purchase of the historic school building.

At the end of last year, the debt on the building held by Madison Realty Capital was reportedly bought for $55 million by an entity called 605 East 9th Community Holdings.

Asked for more specifics about exactly who comprises the philanthropic entity, a Denham Wolf representative told The Village Sun, “The philanthropic entity has chosen to remain anonymous.”

Susan Howard, organizer of the Save Our Community Center, former CHARAS/ P.S. 64 a.k.a. SOCCC-64, did not immediately respond to a request to identify the building’s new owner.

The former Boys Club of New York building on Avenue A sports interior murals by legendary graffiti artist Chico Garcia. (Photo by Steven Hirsch)

Sosnick is the only trustee of the La Vida Feliz Foundation, which purchased the former Boys Club of New York building, at Avenue A and 10th Street, four years ago.

The sprawling, 100,000-square-foot old P.S. 64, which stretches between Ninth and 10th Streets just east of Tompkins Square Park, formerly housed CHARAS / El Bohio, a Puerto Rican-led cultural and community center. A group of Lower East Side youth gang members-turned-activists, CHARAS cleared drug dealers and sex workers out of the decommissioned old school, transforming it into a vital community hub for workshops, meetings, organizing and art.

In 1998, developer Gregg Singer bought the property for $3.2 million at an auction of city-owned properties. He went on to evict CHARAS at the end of 2001.

As the fate of the old P.S. 64 continued to hang in limbo in the past couple of years, some frustrated activists had called for direct action — namely, occupying the vacant building. But the patient approach ultimately paid off, and the building is now out of developer Gregg Singer’s hands and under control of a new owner that plans to return it to community use. (Illustration by Guardians of Loisaida / Jennifer Gonzalez Blitz and Jah Spooky)

In nearly 25 years of ownership, though, in the face of staunch opposition from both the community and City Hall, Singer was unable to fulfill his dream of turning the building into a lucrative student dorm — whether by demolishing it and replacing it with a wildly out-of-place, soaring, modernistic high-rise tower (his initial plan) or renovating it (his later plans).

Lender Madison Realty Capital eventually foreclosed on Singer for failure to repay his multimillion-dollar building loan, setting the stage for the property to be auctioned. To buy time, Singer declared bankruptcy last March. Yet, after some delay, a judge finally set the auction date for November. Potential bidders, however, were all scared off by Singer’s epic, decades-long fail in redeveloping the property. As a result, the auction was canceled, and the philanthropic entity swooped in and bought the building’s loan note at a bargain price. Singer is suing the city for frustrating his development plans.

A mural by Sab Jonze featuring “Yip” Harburg with the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion is on the Ninth Street side of the old P.S. 64. In addition to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the socially progressive lyricist wrote the Great Depression-era anthem “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” which was actually penned in 1932. (Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock)

In related news, Ernie Harburg, 97, the son of “The Wizard of Oz” lyricist “Yip” Harburg — who went to school at the old P.S. 64 — and his wife, Deena Harburg, reportedly love the mural of Harburg and the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion that’s painted on the building’s Ninth Street side. The Village Sun ran a photo of the mural in its article last month on the building’s loan note being sold. The artwork is by Sabrina Jones, who signed it Sab Jonze.

The Harburgs, who live in the East Village, run the Yip Harburg Lyrics Foundation. After the lyricist’s death in 1981, the foundation was created to carry on his legacy and to promote educational opportunity, social and economic justice and world peace. After Ernie stepped down as the foundation’s president in 2017, Deena took over the group’s leadership.

One Comment

  1. Cary Robyn Cary Robyn January 17, 2024

    The course of action I suggested to Mayor Adams (via when the old P.S. 64 was initially about to be auctioned is also my advice to the “mystery philanthropic entity” that has purchased it:

    HOLD PUBLIC HEARINGS, fully investigate the range of innovative options that activists have proposed for the building, and determine what the highest and best use of this site would be, looked at in the context of FOSTERING THE LAST LIVING AUTHENTIC BOHEMIAN NEIGHBORHOOD IN MANHATTAN, increasing the tourist appeal of the city as a whole, catalyzing its creative output, and taking a leading role in trumpeting the need for cities around the world to respond to the Climate Crisis.

    We have a chance to do something really special here. The restoration of CHARAS as a community center is a keystone for shaping the future of Alphabet City as a sustainable bohemian enclave. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to anchor an attempt at setting a tone for the future of this neighborhood by adding special features appealing to creative people:

    — A world-class MUSEUM OF THE COUNTERCULTURE, Ecotopian Resource Center and Esoteric Research Library.

    — THUNDERGROUND, a performance space and nightclub in the building’s cavernous basement, named in honor of Greta Thunberg, that will be a 2020s successor to what Wetlands Preserve environmentalist nightclub had been in the 1990s, aiming at cultivating a Generation Z audience.

    — A DEMONSTRATION VERTICAL FARM capable of providing fresh, local organic produce to the neighborhood’s many restaurants and its residents, and training youth in its operation.

    — A MAKERSPACE and CRAFT GUILD APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM replicating the best of what 3rd Ward in Williamsburg enthrallingly set out to be; only, this time, operating from a building that won’t run the risk of being sold out from under the artists!

    — A “BIOSPHERE GARDEN” GREENHOUSE COMPLEX ATOP ITS ROOF, similar to Santiago Calatrava’s unrealized plans for renovating the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Francois Schuiten’s graphic novel artwork.

    Combined with its unique concentration of lovingly tended urban community gardens and abundant bike racks, Alphabet City can be promoted as a demonstration model aimed at inspiring a new wave of practical utopian experimentation in the 2020s.

    RESTORE P.S. 64 AS A COMMUNITY CENTER with features that will make it meaningful to DESIGNATE ALPHABET CITY AS A “PROTOTYPE GREEN CITY RETROFIT,” a showplace for innovation and an example to the world that can bring your organization national and international acclaim.

    Cary Robyn
    Seed Crystal

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