South Jamaica public school gets landmark status

P.S. 48
Courtesy of The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted on Tuesday, Sept. 22 to designate P.S. 48 in South Jamaica as an individual landmark.

The school’s successful blend of art deco design elements and massing was novel for elementary schools at the time it was proposed and represents a significant early application of the style for New York City schools, the agency said. 

“I am delighted that Public School 48 is our latest individual landmark as it is the first designation in South Jamaica, Queens,” said Sarah Carroll, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “For the past 70 years, P.S. 48 has both served the community and enhanced it with its beautifully executed design. Its art deco style details, which are quite striking in person, make it unique, and it is one of the first elementary schools in New York City to incorporate this architectural style.”

The design of P.S. 48, located at 155-02 108th Ave., represents the modernization of school design in the 1930s and the ideal of creating monumental civic structures to serve the neighborhood’s children. 

Completed in 1936, the school was designed by Walter C. Martin, who served as superintendent of buildings for the Board of Education from 1928 until 1938. He designed hundreds of schools throughout the five boroughs in a variety of styles from Renaissance revival, to Colonial revival, to art deco, displaying the range of stylistic approaches to school design in the interwar period. 

Martin’s use of the art deco style for P.S. 48 drew inspiration from industrial and commercial buildings, reflected in its large window openings and distinctive decorative treatment not seen on some of his other schools in the style. 

He highlighted the main facade with bi-color brick spandrels; bi-color terra-cotta plaques evocative of the importance of education; stylized foliate plaques atop the piers; and granite entrance surrounds featuring stylized eagles that harbor bronze doors with bronze-enframed multi-light transoms. 

These highly distinctive decorative features set P.S. 48 apart from other schools of the period and style. Little has changed since its opening in 1936, and it remains a prominent building within the neighborhood of South Jamaica. 

Meghan Weatherby, executive director of The Art Deco Society of New York, said P.S. 48 is a striking and important example of an art deco public school. 

“The Art Deco Society of New York is very pleased that the LPC agrees and has designated this building a New York City landmark,” Weatherby said. “Prior to this designation, Herman Ridder Junior High School, in the Bronx, was the only individually designated art deco public school building, so ADSNY is excited that this designation by the LPC has effectively doubled that number.”

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sittings and Disposition, said the landmark designation of P.S. 48 is a vital part of preserving the architectural beauty of Queens. 

“Jamaica, Queens, carries an incredible legacy which is under threat like never before and the designation of this building will certainly add to community pride in its history,” Adams said. “I thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for supporting this important designation.”