Petitioners hope to revamp Erasmus Academy Building

February 23, 2016 Anna Spivak
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A petition to save the over two-centuries-old Erasmus Academy Building in Flatbush has surfaced online and brought back a debate that started almost nine years ago – a plea to the city to save the dilapidated city landmark from demolition by neglect and turn it into a useful community institution.

Through a petition, already flooded with over 1,300 signatures (1,500 being the goal), supporters of the Erasmus Academy Building — nestled inside the courtyard of the Erasmus Hall Educational Campus on Flatbush Avenue — penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, asking for his help to “save one of the City’s oldest landmarks.

“The Academy Building once housed classrooms, administrative offices, a library and a museum,” the letter reads. “Abandoned since 2000, the wooden building has been deteriorating steadily as a result of an unusual city agency dilemma: although the Academy Building is under the auspices of the city’s Department of Education (DOE), the DOE has maintained that it cannot use any of its resources for stabilizing and/or renovating the building since it cannot be used as classroom space.”

Given this, the aim of the petition is to urge Mayor de Blasio to transfer the Erasmus building to a different city agency, according to the letter. Once that happens, the new agency would be able to perform emergency repairs to the building, identify an appropriate user for the site, and implement measures that will enable a new tenant to improve and occupy the building.

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“You need a building like this to survive,” said Erasmus’ former Athletic Director Marshal Tames, who, in 2007, brought the issues of the dormant site to Community Board 14, to which he then belonged. “I’m sure [people believe] that once a building is declared a landmark that it is taken care of, but, that’s not the case.”

Tames noted that while the board was “absolutely” willing to endorse the idea of rehabilitating the building, its recommendations are advisory only, and nothing ever came to fruition.

“The DOE does not want to pay for it…but I think it could be used as a museum,” said Tames. “It’s good for the community, it’s good for the country, it’s so historical – Alexander Hamilton  met there and just by its historic existence, I think it means so much. It’s the second oldest public high school in the country, it’s unique and it’s a tremendous landmark that is very important.”

“Erasmus is a fantastically important building in the history of America and there has been a lot of attention paid to it,” added Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “People are aware of its existence, but, unfortunately, for lots of reasons, it’s fallen on really hard times. We really think that it should continue serving a community’s needs. All of our landmarks are of importance but Erasmus Hall is of national significance.”

The Erasmus Academy Building  was designated a city landmark in 1966 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Past alumni of the high school include performers Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Lainie Kazan, Beverly Sills, Barbara Stanwyck and Eli Wallach; writers Bernard Malamud and Mickey Spillane; and builder Sam Lefrak.

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