By George Capsis
“Should I continue to lay on my back watching Judge Judy or should I, on this chilly dark evening, go to the Pier 55 (Diller’s Island) meeting way over on East 15th Street”?
I could sense Judge Judy wining when I got a call from Nelly “You got to go for your paper” and I lifted my assemblage of pains and went through the exit catechism—keys, wallet, glasses and made my way to a new intermediary school called Clinton School for Artists and Writers on 10 East 15th Street just off 5th on the South side of 15th.
“What is this big new shiny school for Artists and Writers so close to the West Village?” I asked, annoyed at my ignorance. Me, who had three kids going through PS 41, IS 70 and Hunter—how could this school be built and I never knew of its existence and hence never printed a word of it in WestView!
We did have an Education Editor but she got mad at me for offering a rendering of a new pre-school building in the play yard of the proposed Morton Street intermediary school and quit. (Anybody out there who wants to be Education Editor give me a call (212) 924 5718).)
But there I was, with a grandson with a four-year football scholarship at Holy Cross when a nice young father introduced himself with “I have a kid in PS 3 and I hope she will get into Clinton” oh wow, what have I missed!
“My name is Sandra Schwartz and I am going to introduce our speakers for tonight and then we will have a charette. “What’s a charrette?” my neighbor asked, and I explained it was an intense prolonged creative session. The word came from French architectural students offering up their efforts to the school cart likened to that which French revolution guillotine victims rode. Then the speakers were introduced—with long show business credits (show biz people give themselves lots of awards).
George C Wolfe, who used to be in charge of the Public Theater, aimlessly wandered through theatrical talk and the only thing I can remember is an anecdote, which ended with “he was gay.”
Kate Horton—very British—was the Director of the National Theater. With schoolmarm enunciation, she talked about The Theater with a capital “T.”
Stephan Daldry, who directed the film Billy Eliot about a boy dancer, also spoke. (When I googled the Daily Mail, I discovered the headline “Openly-gay Billy Eliot director reveals the real reason why he married his wife Lucy fifteen years ago”.) I can’t remember anything he said, but he had a very pleasant demeanor and an unpretentious smiling delivery.
An attractive young lady got up and announced that she was a graduate of PS 3 and NYU and she taught acting to kids and was obviously auditioning for a job with Pier 55 Diller Island and, BANG, I had a time passage shock…
In 1964 we had a month long school strike and I created and ran an emergency school They had me on TV—we ran 85% of the regular enrollment in church classrooms around the Village. The assertive fringe (the Vietnam war had created a climate of authority defiance) broke into PS 41, threw down bed rolls, and ran a guerilla school. I became the establishment enemy (an astonishing role for somebody who slaps policemen) so when it was over there was an open political battle for who was going to be president of the PTA (They even drove a sound truck around the Village demanding parent control of PS 41.)
Dr. Matt Ferguson gave a party for the teachers to keep them until the evening voting session and I won my second political office (at 13 I was elected boro president of the 1st floor at IS 70 by one vote (my own)—I wore a blue felt sash and directed traffic between classes).
In the first PTA meeting, I was met with the still seething rage of break-ins who vented their well-honed collective hate by interrupting every innocuous comment I made—till I turned to principal Dr, Goldberg and said “here it is your school, take over” and walked off.
“PS 41 is crowded, we have to find more room” I was told and there was PS 3 standing empty except for a handful of truant kids they rounded up during the school day (never more than 15).
We went down to the Board of Education in Brooklyn and confronted the smug Chancellor who couldn’t even manage contempt for a parent PTA president asking for a whole school building. He was so indifferent (he wouldn’t even look me in the eye) that I found myself walking towards him demanding his attention with increasing volume and threatening steps. My guys held me back “It’s OK George” said a lawyer parent, “we can sue them.” We did and got PS 3, but as soon as we did the break-in parents swarmed in—it was their school. They hired a British “head master” and it went progressive and, I guess from what I was hearing that night, “artistic”.
“Don’t build Diller Island just leave it river” demanded Mel Stevens who lives across the street on Charles and earned complete uncomprehending silence.
And then I made my speech culled from memory of the several articles I have written on the subject—that Diller Island was a back-of-the-envelope sketch of a designer not an architect, that these enormous mushroom-shaped piles (some of which rode 75 feet above the water) were a gratuitous indulgence the cost of which could not be justified, and finally they ought to reinforce the piles on Pier 40 and use it for theatrical performances. My comments were met with the same silence—what did this have to do with show business?
As I gave my cards to the three speakers—none had cards—Stephan Daldry made a joke about show biz people having a business card just as his very serious teen daughter came up. When I was about to suggest sharing a cab back to the Village, she unsmiling announced that they lived within walking distance.
She too was a graduate of artistic PS 3. And she too, I realized, had no idea of what this old man was complaining about.