P.S. 63 Author's Academy
Backstory and Context
P.S. 63 is a K-5 (kindergarten through 5th grade) public school housed in a 1924, five story masonry building and owned by the New York City Department of Education. The lot it occupies is close to twice the size of the school building, spanning the entire distance between Franklin Avenue and Boston Avenue; it provides a large open space for recreational use. The school was built at a time migration to the Bronx was at a high rate as a result of Depression-era housing vacancies and low rents. The low cost of living and better housing options precipitated a small group of African Americans to move in with high hopes of better education, shopping, and public transportation than they previously experienced in Harlem. The Morrisania area was a predominantly Jewish, working-class community at that time. By the 1960’s, Jewish and other white ethnic residents left the Bronx and the population of Morrisania and its surrounding neighborhoods shifted to an entirely Black, Latino, and other minority group community. P.S. 63 was born along with the renaissance of the Morrisania community and has stood by its side ever since.
In the 1950’s-1960’s the South Bronx was part of a musical revolution. Boston Road between 167th and 169th Streets, where P.S. 63 was located, was a major music club hub, flaunting famous live jazz clubs such as Goodson’s, Freddy’s and Sylvia’s Blue Moroccos. Nearby, Latin clubs pounded with the sounds and rhythms of mambo and salsa. These venues were famous throughout the Bronx at large and locals from throughout the entire Bronx would visit them regularly to hear artists such as Nancy Wilson, the Jimmy Castor Bunch, Tito Puente, and Mickey and Sylvia. The profusion of musical expression was evidently palpable in the Bronx atmosphere at the time and permeated the lives of its inhabitants, students included. P.S. 63’s location on McKinley Square put it at the center of cultural, commercial, and political life of the South Bronx along with other historic Morrisania institutions, such as the Morrisania Library, the Lincoln Republic Club, the Jackson Democratic Club and tons of stores and restaurants. Its location is a significant factor in what was eventually to become "63 Park".
In the 1970’s-1980’s, at a time of great turmoil that was the New York City fiscal crisis, Morrisania was reported to have lost fifty percent of its population and forty percent of its housing. At this time, many of the great music and after-school programs in Bronx schools were shut down as a result of budget cuts, thereby depriving children in the borough the opportunity to practice and learn musical instruments and showcase their skills the way their parents and grandparents had done. This deficit did not suppress creative impulses; rather, budget cuts and disinvestment directed those impulse toward freeform, artistic channels. The combination of budget cuts to fire and police services along with the cut to the arts opened up opportunities for de-institutionalized forms of community and creative expression. Hip-hop was created and flourished in the gaps left by the lack of authority and oversight in the Bronx. Outdoor parties, where musicians performed, were left alone, even without permits, due to lack of police presence. Given the weight of the neighborhood's disinvestment and infrastructural collapse, the police were preoccupied with more serious matters than noise, giving the music the unique chance to thrive.
In the late- 1970s, the asphalt playground of P.S. 63 became known as "63 Park", where Joseph Saddler, better known as Grandmaster Flash, an American hip-hop recording artist and D.J. who was eventually inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, began his performing career. D.J.’s used light poles outside park jams for electricity, borrowing the city's high voltage to support their performances. Another famous character of the music scene at the time, D.J. Breakout, also known as T63, said that the name “T63 came from when [he] was in school 63 writing on the buses." Grand Wizard Theodore, an early hip-hop innovator credited with inventing scratching, once told an interviewer that the first time he ever "got on the turntables" in public was at 63 Park. According to Breakout, multiple music crews occupied areas along Boston Road making it a major musical hub, specifically on the streets directly surrounding P.S. 63, between 167th and 169th Streets.
Though 63 Park was the site of numerous monumental music events forty years ago, theses days it is much quieter. On a recent afternoon, the only person causing a scene at 63 Park was a stressed-out woman selling ice cream from a cart. The school yard behind the school building looks identical to hundreds of others throughout New York City with white basketball backboards and a vibrant blue mural of a diploma painted onto a nearby wall.
As an educational institution, P.S. 63 Author’s Academy has made serious progress in the past decade. While approximately twenty percent of students passed the state math tests in 2000, more than 70 percent passed in 2012. The school also boasts after-school sports programs and a vigorous Parent-Teacher Association, which opposed the Department of Education’s plan to temporarily co-locate a charter school in the building. The plan was ultimately approved, moving Mott Hall Charter School to an annexed building on its property today.
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