City will Demolish, Redevelop Historic Chinatown School Building Ravaged by Fire

Posted on: March 2nd, 2020 at 5:06 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

The Chinatown building destroyed by a five-alarm fire in January will be demolished and redeveloped.

The historic Public School 23, erected in 1892 and owned by the city, fell victim to the fire on its top three floors. Damage was severe, and it took firefighters more than a day to extinguish the inferno. Nine firefighters and one civilian, carried to safety from a tower ladder, were injured.

The city confirmed last week in a press release that the top floors have been inaccessible since the fire, and that the structure will be taken down.

“The City determined that the first phase of deconstruction is necessary due to extensive, irreparable damage to the building,” the Department of Citywide Administrative Services said in a statement. “During deconstruction, the city will be able to access parts of the building that have remained inaccessible to date due to unsafe conditions.”

Said first phase will focus on the most damaged elements, and will unfold over the next four months. The community nonprofits that called 70 Mulberry home – Chinatown Manpower, H.T. Chen & Dancers Company, United East Athletics Association, and the Museum of Chinese in America – will then have a chance to salvage any remains of their belongings.

MOCA initially feared the worst, but already salvaged hundreds of boxes of archival material stashed on the second floor. This week, the Museum will retrieve the remaining 80-percent.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, Chinatown activist Karlin Chan started a petition to save the building. It’s so far netted nearly a thousand signatures.

After the big takedown, the plan is to redevelop. But what are the chances the city just sells the property and wipes its hands?

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