C. B. J. Snyder built “grand municipal architecture full of promise and hope”
Cathedrals of Culture: Architect Charles B. J. Snyder and the New York City Public Schools
Fordham University Press, 2022, $39.95; 272 pages.
by Jean Arrington with Cynthia S. LaValle
As reviewed by Stephen Eide:
From Factories to Palaces, a biography of school architect C. B. J. Snyder, opens a view onto a lost and glorious world of public education in New York City. Early 20th-century Progressives believed that mass public education could reconcile democracy and excellence. Their hopes shaped the 408 new schools and additions that Snyder designed during his 1891 to 1922 tenure as New York’s superintendent of school buildings. To a degree, Progressives’ hopes were fulfilled. Some Snyder schools, such as Erasmus Hall and Morris High, would produce long lists of notable alumni despite being neighborhood, not exam schools. Snyder biographer Jean Arrington invites us to consider the contribution that design makes to excellence in education.
Three factors accounted for the extravagant scale of Snyder’s school building program. The first two were the revenues pouring into the city treasury and the pressures of surging enrollment. In the current era, New York’s traditional district schools have been losing students since 2016, and that trend is expected to continue. In Snyder’s day, school enrollment was growing by 25,000 students every year. During Snyder’s most productive period, 1899–1914, enrollment almost doubled, and appropriations tripled. When his building program was going at full stride, a new Snyder-designed school was opening every 23 days.
Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal.
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