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The Architecture of Literacy

charles bj snyder architect

Jean Arrington had wanted to live in New York most of her life, but had a tenured position teaching English in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her daughter moved to New York City and offered an irresistible inducement, “If you come, I’ll have a baby.”

She discovered the school designs of Charles C.J. Snyder while job hunting, and was amazed at the quality of the 19th and early 20th century buildings—full of light and air, made of fire-resistant materials and handsome, too. Jean was “astounded” however, to find no book on Snyder. Through the internet, she tracked down Christopher Gray’s New York Times columns on Snyder and gave him a call.

“You know more than anyone on the planet about C.B.J. Snyder. May I came over and talk with you?” Gray’s reply: “Of course.”

When she got there, Gray settled her in a chair and offered her access to his voluminous library and files. Jean Arrington has since become a Snyder scholar, visiting his schools throughout the five boroughs and reading his reports in the Municipal Archives. She’s completed a first draft of a book on Snyder, but needs time to complete it. She never did get a job in one of his schools; instead she teaches full-time at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Jean also lectures across the state on Snyder and gives periodic walking tours on Snyder schools, including one on September 17.

Come along to learn more about the 400 Snyder schools throughout the city, built at a time when public education was treated as a wise investment.

The Architecture of Literacy – Saturday, September 17, 11:00 a.m.

We’ll look at three public schools by the Progressive, City-Beautiful era architect, Charles B. J. Snyder, and also at the campus designed in the 1890s by Stanford White for New York University (now Bronx Community College), with the early-20th-century tourist attraction, the Hall of Fame. Modern buildings include ones by Marcel Breuer and Robert A. M. Stern.