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Rentals in Harlem's P.S. 157 Bank on High School Nostalgia

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

Twenty years ago, when renovations work wrapped on the former P.S. 157, its Brooklyn-based developers leased the newly hewn apartments—complete with the 10-foot-tall, 80-pound windows and restored copper cornice—starting at $500 a month. Tenants were willing to shell out the cash to live in a smidge of real estate that, at the time, had just shouldered its way—via its "transitional and vernacular reworking of Chateauesque motifs"—into the National Registry of Historic Places. Plus, it was right by the D and A trains, which chugged to midtown in 15 minutes. Decades after its renovation, and well over a century since superintendent Charles B.J. Snyder designed the place, the building prides itself on its avid restoration of what the brokerbabble calls "turn of the century charm"—and we're not just talking high school-style linoleum hallways, though there is much and more of that.

Nowadays, the appeal for quirky reused spaces (or perhaps Chateauesque motifs) means, as Curbed NY reports, the available one-bedroom will set interested parties back $2,350 a month, while the two-bedroom asks $2,900 a month.

Constructed in the tail end of the 19th-century, the school operated as such for more than seven decades, ultimately closing in 1975. It spent the next 10-plus years floundering as rounds of developers took a stab at buying and repurposing it. It wasn't until the late '80s did P.S. 157 get a break. The city had begun pouring some $600M into gutting the vacant buildings of Harlem, which the Times defined as the chunk of Manhattan from about 110th Street (the tip of Central Park) to 155th Street.

P.S. 157 got some $2.2M in grant money from the Federal Government, plus a $2.8M loan from the city, and $964K from the Community Preservation Corporation. Oh, and there was a bonus $900K government loan spent solely on asbestos removal. In all that adds up to about $110K spent for each of the 73 apartments, more than double the average rehab cost at the time.

Where'd that money go? Well, for one, the vast majority of the building's original windows (there are 385 in total) were hand-weighted, with restored frames and replaced glass, at a shop in Brooklyn's Crown Heights. The copper cornice was fixed up by a guy in the Bronx, while the decorative panels got beautified in the hands of a Russian-born Brooklyn carpenter. They replaced 65 200-pound stones that made up the structure, using moulds to replace the crumbling blocks.

The architects in charge, Manhattan's John Ellis & Associates and Hirsch/Danois Architects, also went to great lengths to keep it school-like. They included false doors and hardwood wainscoting along the hallways. There are globe lamps hanging from the hall ceilings and nostalgically hideous extra-wide staircases done up in that hospital shade of sage green. The rooms are a variated hardwood, done in thin planks and high shine.

For many, the schoolhouse veneer is a huge turn-on. Others (like, say, some Curbed commenters), react thusly: "OMG, what a joke. They didn't even try to make it look like it wasn't a school." Well spotted. "It probably still smells like a cafeteria." It's been 40 years since those halls last created a chicken nugget, so probably not.

Do have a look at the listings, right this way.

· Live In A Historic Converted Harlem School For $2,300/Month [Curbed NY]
· Going to School in Harlem—to Live [NYT]
· 327 St. Nicholas Ave., New York, N.Y. [Streeteasy]
· All Past Lives columns [Curbed National]
· All Adaptive Reuse posts [Curbed National]