By Carter B. Horsley
The Upper East Side boasts
numerous "exclusive" preparatory schools for girls but
the two most prestigious and famous have always been Chapin and
the Brearley School, which are both a block away from each other.
Chapin is on the northwest corner of 84th Street at 100 East End
Avenue. Brearley is at the eastern end of 83rd Street at the FDR
Drive where it occupies parts of two buildings across 83rd Street.
Chapin has lovely views of Carl Schurz Park. Brearley has spectacular
views of the East River. Chapin, until 2007, had a very handsome
Georgian-style, low-rise building. Brearley had a dark brown-brick
View from the southeast
In 2008, Chapin completed an
expansion that added several floors to its existing structure.
The expansion was designed by Marner Architecture in a modern
style that is completely out of context with the existing building
and surrounding buildings even though it is not unattractive if
it were its own free-standing structure.
The expansion did not win the
famous school a lot of brownie points with its adjacent neigbhor,
the apartment building at 110 East End Avenue.
The Chapin School was founded
by Maria Bowen Chapin and opened in 1901 at 12 West 47th Street
as Miss Chapin's School for Girls and Kindergarten for Boys and
Girls and it then had an enrollment of 78 students and seven teachers.
Four years later, it moved to 58th Street and in 1910 it relocated
to 57th Street. It finally moved to its present location in 1928.
The last year that boys attended
the school was 1917.
The school's motto is "Fortiter
et Recte," (Bravely and Rightly), and the school's emblem
is the wheel that was meant to kill Saint Catherine of Alexandria,
but which miraculously fell apart, symbolizing the students' "spirit
of endurance and moral fortitude" and, according to the school's
website, "The students leave assembly, which is called prayers,
in a wheel pattern."
The addition consists of two-and-a-half
floors that will contain new language, science, a green house,
and art facilities to account for the growth in student body.
The construction was finished for the 2008-2009 school year and
the school now has eight and a half floors.
The school is ranked very high
nationally and in late 2007 it placed third in a list of schools
with senior classes of at least 50 in a Wall Street Journal
ranking of college placement at Harvard, Princeton, theUniversity
of Chicago, John Hopkins, MIT, Williams, Pomona and Swarthmore.
Its well-known alumnae include
Jacqueleine Kennedy Onassis, Vera Wang, Queen Noor ofJordan, Christine
Todd Whitman, Sunny von Bulow and Ivanka Trump.
The school has an enrollment
of more than 660 students and in addition to 49 classrooms, the
school building includes a two-story library with a multimedia
room and a video editing room, 6 science laboratories, 4 art studios
including a photography darkroom and a ceramics studio, 2 music
studios, a black box theater, a dance studio, 2 computer laboratories,
4 gymnasiums and a greenhouse.
One commenter on an Internet
blog posted a comment about the school's new addition that "the
only thing left to do is reclad the bottom half" and another
commenter asked "is it like a bad Japanese movie with people
running and screaming as they look up?"
The battle with the neighborhood
was first chronicled in an article by Anthony Ramirez March 3,
1996 in The New York Times:
"If real life were more
like fiction, the clash between Tom Wolfe, author of one of New
York's defining novels, 'The Bonfire of the Vanities,' and Susan
Cheever, the writer and daughter of John Cheever, the late chronicler
of haute WASP angst, would have been more mano a mano. As it is,
they are on opposite sides in a neighborhood fight over expansion
plans by the Chapin School, which educates more than 600 girls
in a Georgian-style building at 84th Street and East End Avenue.
The issue is quintessentially Upper East Side: How far can an
exclusive private school go without infuriating its neighbors?
Mr. Wolfe, a Chapin trustee whose daughter attends the school,
argued in January before Community Board 8 that the school needs
to expand or risk losing its accreditation. The school goes from
kindergarten through 12th grade and parents typically pay nearly
$14,000 in annual fees. A Community Board committee voted 21 to
8 to back Chapin's bid for permission for the $10 million project.
Ms. Cheever, on the other hand, is among a number of East Side
residents who believe that the school is not entirely to be trusted.
When it built a gymnasium in 1987, neighbors remember midnight
jackhammering, klieg lights left on all night that blinded adjacent
apartments and a generally haughty indifference to the neighborhood.
'It was a nightmare,' said Ms. Cheever, who lives 30 feet from
the back wall of Chapin School. Mr. Wolfe did not return phone
calls seeking comment. Residents were informed last month that
the Chapin School wanted to add three floors to an existing building
for a library, gymnasium and theater. The construction, beginning
in June, would last some 16 months.
Last week, Chapin went
before the city's Board of Standards and Appeals, which is empowered
to approve the expansion, and got an earful. Nine neighbors testified
against the expansion, saying that they had received insufficient
notice and that Chapin had botched relations with the community
in the 1987 expansion. For its part, Chapin said it would listen
hard to community concerns. Sandra J. Theunick, who became head
of school in 1993, said Chapin had held three meetings in December
and February at the school, each attended by more than a dozen
A few months later, another
article appeared in same paper on September 24, 2006 about the
controversy, written this time by John Freeman Gill:
of the Chapin School, one of the cityís elite private all-girls
institutions, went before the local community board this month
to present expansion plans for its building on East End Avenue,
the head of school, Patricia Hayot, was in the audience, along
with a few students. But though the board approved the proposed
expansion, Dr. Hayot found herself on the receiving end of a rap
on the knuckles and an impromptu civics lesson from more than
one board member. Chapinís proposed expansion, which requires city
approval, would add three stories to its existing red brick building,
at 84th Street, providing new science labs and other facilities.
But the construction would also seal off some windows along one
wall of the apartment house at 110 East End Avenue, immediately
to the north of the school. Despite the projectís impact
on the apartment house, the public hearing on the expansion, held
on Sept. 13 by the land use committee of Community Board 8, was
sparsely attended. Gerald Solovei, one of a handful of tenants
from 110 East End Avenue who spoke at the meeting, suggested a
reason for the small turnout. Notice of the meeting, he said,
had been posted in his building less than a week earlier. In addition,
he told the board, Chapin had held a private meeting the previous
day to show the plans to some, but not all, of the tenants of
110 East End. Later in the meeting, Jane Parshall, a board member,
chastised Chapin and, by extension, Dr. Hayot for their behavior.
'I just wish the school, trying to teach citizenship to these
young ladies sitting behind me, would practice some citizenship
itself by meeting with the neighbors of the adjoining building
instead of with just a few of them,' Ms. Parshall said. 'Iím
shocked,' she added. 'These independent schools require community
service. They want their young ladies or young men to go out and
reach out to see how the other half lives all the time. But they
often donít practice it themselves.' In response, Dr. Hayot
said in an interview on Thursday that the neighborhood had been
invited, through the East 84th Street Block Association, to a
Chapin open house in March at which the expansion plans were laid
out in detail. Some residents of 110 East End were on hand, added
Howard Goldman, the schoolís lawyer. As for the private meeting
the day before the land use committee met, Dr. Hayot described
it as simply an informal coffee that the schoolís plant supervisor
shared with two neighbors: Leon Negron, a representative of the
East 84th Street Block Association, and one tenant of 110 East
End. 'It was five minutes of my time walking in to say hi to Mr.
Negron because I hadnít seen him all summer, Dr. Hayot said.
Despite the flurry of controversy, the committee voted 19 to 16,
with one abstention, to approve the Chapin addition."