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Affordable East Harlem Artists' Housing Half Finished

By Victoria Bekiempis | September 25, 2013 7:17am
 El Barrio's Artspace, an initiative to convert a former public school into affordable housing, is about halfway through renovations as of September 2013.
El Barrio's Artspace
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EAST HARLEM — Gargoyles and griffins will soon return to East Harlem as part of new affordable housing for artists that aims to highlight the building's more than century-old past. 

Neighborhood residents can expect to see these architectural monsters on the exterior facades of El Barrio's Artspace, a forthcoming development being built in an abandoned public school.

The project, organized by the national nonprofit Artspace and the local affordable housing group El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, is converting the defunct P.S. 109 into 90 units of affordable housing. The tenant selection process will give preference to artists, but applications will be open to all, and 50 percent of the homes will be reserved for current East Harlem residents.

Backers broke ground on the project in October 2012 and are already "about midway through construction and want to start taking applications for next spring," Artspace spokeswoman Melodie Bahan said.

She explained that Artspace had completed extensive exterior restoration work on the building, located at 215 E. 99th St., which is a Gothic Revival-style structure from 1898 that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

"This building had an enormous amount of gorgeous, gorgeous terracotta on the exterior. It had gargoyles and griffins," Bahan explained. "All of that was removed."

Artspace is restoring "all of that to its original state on the exterior of the building," she said.

In addition, several large copper turrets and a "very large spire" will be reinstalled, with the spire slated to be erected next week.

The apartments — for tenants who earn between 38 to 58 percent of the area's median income — will all have high windows and natural light, as well as "open floor plans to enable artists to have workspace in addition to the living space," she said.

Artspace is conducting community outreach regarding the application process for the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Residents are expected be able to move in as early as October 2014.

Three hourlong information sessions about the building will take place Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at El Museum Del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Ave., at East 103rd Street.