First Look: The New School That's Coming to the Financial District

Left: Rendering of the new school, which includes the historic Dickey House and a new eight-story building, as seen from the corner of Trinity Place and Edgar Street. (The orange slab at left is a placeholder for a sign.) Right: A 500-foot, 35-story residential tower with about 85 apartments will rise above the eight-story portion of school. FXFowle Architects via Tribeca Trib

Feb. 14, 2016

A city landmark, built during the presidency of James Madison, is slated to become part of the Financial District’s recently announced new elementary school.

While appearing from the outside as a separate building, plans call for the four-story, 204-year-old Robert and Anne Dickey House to connect internally with the eight-story school building that will go up next door. The new building will be at the base of a planned 500-foot-high residential tower on the site of the former Syms Clothing store.

The 476-seat school will occupy all of the historic building, which stands at Trinity, Edgar and Greenwich Streets, and all but the commercial first floor and residential entrance of the new building.

Construction of the project, developed by Trinity Place Holdings and designed by FXFowle Architects, is expected to begin in the fall and be completed in 2019, according to the developers.

Restoration plans for the now-decrepit historic building, as well as a stepped cantilever of the tower that would be positioned over it, went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval on Tuesday. The commission opposed the cantilever—as did Community Board 1s Landmarks Committee, which saw the plan last week, and preservationists who spoke against it at the LPC hearing. Architect Daniel Kaplan was told to rework that part of the towers design and come back. But the restoration proposal for the historic building got high marks all around.

The plan provides some new details and the first clear picture of the Financial Districts first public elementary school.

According to the proposal, the school’s entrance will be on Trinity Place, accessed by way of a roughly 650-square-foot “entrance court” in front of the Dickey House at 42 Trinity Pl. The landmark, whose address is also 67 Greenwich Street, will appear to have a front door on Greenwich in order to maintain its historical appearance. But the door will likely be inoperable, according to the architects.

Altogether, the school would occupy 85,000 square feet of the 290,000-square-foot project.

The developer is planning to provide two rooftop play yards, one of them a 1,200-square-foot space on top of the historic building, the other on the roof of the new school building. The former would occupy a sunken portion of that building’s roof, hidden behind what, from the street, will look like its fourth floor. The play yard’s 10-foot-high fence would be set back and not visible from the street, according to the plans.

Students will have the distinction of going to school in one of Manhattan’s few remaining Federal-era houses, and the borough’s last townhouse with a bowed facade, characteristic of the Federal style, according to the Landmarks Commission.

Built from 1809 to 1810 and named for the couple who owned it until 1820, the Dickey House stood in the citys most fashionable neighborhood, favored by its wealthiest, more prominent citizens. (Dickey sold the building to Peter Schermerhorn, builder of the Seaport’s Schermerhorn Row.) The mansion was divided into apartments in the mid-1800s, serving as a rooming house and later as a tenement building as the neighborhood turned working class. Most other historic former mansions in the area were demolished in the 1940s for the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, making the Dickey House a rare survivor.

The city declared the Dickey House a protected landmark in 2005 over the objections of its owners, who wanted to put a 22-story building on the site. They claimed they were forced to allow the building to deteriorate because it was too costly to maintain.

“Just because something is old doesn’t mean it should be preserved, then owner Martha Schessel told the Trib in 2003.

For years, Friends of the Lower West Side and other activists have worked to preserve what few historic buildings remain in the area, a neighborhood once known as Little Syria. One of the activists, Esther Regelson, watched last weeks presentation to the community board by architect Daniel Kaplan as he described how the crumbling landmark would be meticulously restored and turned into a school. While she joined other preservationists in opposing the proposed cantilever over the Dickey House, she lauded the meticulous plans to save the old structure.

“We’re thrilled that you’re doing that for the building,” Regelson told the architect. “For so long, we thought it was going to be demolition by neglect.”



'The rich are stealing sunshine from the poor'

New skyscrapers like this, which may be legal within zoning restrictions, do a reactionary disservice to neighborhoods with narrow streets. My mantra: The rich are stealing sunshine from the poor and from Manhattan's puny street trees. The 30th floor will bask in sunshine during winter months but the street level will be in perpetual shadow.