The public school building’s design and details set it apart from other school buildings built during the early 20th century. On June 9, 2020, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar Public School 48 in Jamaica, Queens for designation as an individual landmark. Public School 48, located at 155-02 108th Avenue, is an Art Deco style three-story public school building designed by Walter C. Martin.
Public School 48 was built in 1936 as part of the Board of Education’s extensive school construction program to relieve overcrowding in existing schools and to meet the needs of the new growing Jamaica neighborhood after World War I. It was one of the first schools built under the “p-type” school construction plan, which incorporated an extended auditorium wing to allow space for more classrooms.
Walter C. Martin, who was the Board of Education’s superintendent of buildings from 1928 to 1938, included many detailed design elements into the school building. Notable architectural features of the building include strong corner towers, vertical piers with stylized foliate capitals, bi-colored spandrels, bi-colored terracotta plaques that showed scenes depicting the importance of education, stylized foliate plaques atop of piers, and granite entrance surrounds featuring stylized eagles that harbor bronze doors. In addition, Martin applied stylized cartouches with the school’s numerical designation and the Board of Education’s seal instead of carving the name of the school into the facade, a design traditionally done for public schools at the time. Martin’s design and detailing of Public School 48’s building sets it apart from the other public schools built during this time.
The design elements on the Public School 48 building were inspired by elements from Martin’s work on the Herman Ridder Junior High School in the Bronx. The Herman Ridder Junior High School is an Art-Deco style public school building that is considered Martin’s notable work. The building was designated as an individual landmark in 1990.
At the public hearing, Kate Lemos McHale, Landmarks’ Director of Research, stated that the details found on the Public School 48 building “imparts a sense of monumentality appropriate to a civic structure.” She stated that the Landmarks research team believes that landmark designation should be considered for Public School 48 because there have been little changes to the building since its opening in 1936 and it is a highly intact example of Walter C. Martin’s use of the Art-Deco style in the 1930s.
Landmarks Chair Sarah Carroll stated that Public School 48 is worth the Commission’s consideration because it would be the third public school building built after 1930 to be designated as a landmark. She noted that if Public School 48 is designated as an individual landmark, it would serve as both a representation for an architectural period not well represented by Landmarks designations and a representation for Jamaica, Queens.
Landmarks unanimously voted to calendar Public School 48 and will hold a public hearing on its proposed landmark designation at a later date.
By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019).