Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

New York, New York

P.S. 186

From scholastic to sepulchral - now under reconstruction. 

There are schools with asbestos and schools with bad Regent scores, and then there’s P.S. 186, where half the auditorium has been crushed by the caved-in ceiling and there are pigeon corpses and trees in nearly every classroom. Here, the concern is not the graduation rate, but the multi-story collapse in the east wing and the squatters in the basement. This school is far beyond failing DOE standards: its literal foundation is crumbling underneath its crumbling structure. 

Built by acclaimed chief architect for New York City schools C. B. J. Snyder, Public School 186 opened in 1903 as a Harlem elementary school. 100,000 square feet and shaped like an H, the building (which was originally inspired by the Hôtel de Cluny in Paris) had reached such a state of disrepair by the 1970s that officials could only speculate on what would kill the students first in case of fire, as quoted in the New York Times: “Children would suffocate to death before being burned to death or before they got a chance to leap to their death. In any case, they would die.” Indeed, the school’s long corridors, poor security, and general neglect led to incidents of parents being robbed by hoodlums off the street and teachers’ aides being raped at gunpoint. In 1975, the 72-year-old school was finally closed down after it was discovered that the fire alarm system had been cut.

Today the building still sits tall and red on its haunches, staring out across West 145th Street. It was once considered an eyesore but many now find the nostalgic, turn-of-the-century architecture of the building beautiful and are fighting to landmark and renovate it into a community space, while others would rather have it demolished. Issues of legality and ownership and money have development at a standstill, however, so P.S. 186 remains, 111 years old and decaying away as the world spins on.

Update: School is now under heavy reconstruction. No longer abandoned. 

 Update: December 2016: Reconstruction seems to be complete.

Know Before You Go

Take the 1 train to 145th, the entrance is on 145th between Amsterdam and Broadway(If you're googling directions, use the address 520 West 145th.)