In 1891, new Superintendent of School Buildings Charles B.J. Snyder took on the task of revamping Manhattan’s entire school system. In his thirty-one years as superintendent, Snyder designed over 700 school buildings, the first being Public School 23 on Mulberry Street in New York’s Chinatown in 1891. The architecture was not only unconventional in style, but marked two brand new innovations:fire-proof construction and a basement auditorium that could act as a community space.

With its Lower East Side location, students from numerous immigrant backgrounds and even generations studied at P.S. 23:in 1905, the New-York Tribune called it “the school of twenty-nine nationalities.” In 1906, the flourishing P.S. 23 was the first school visited by a cohort of 500 teachers sent by Britain’s head of education to study the American school system. But by the 1970s, the middle class began leaving the neighborhood – with not enough children in attendance as many moved to P.S. 124 at the newly constructed Confucius Plaza.

P.S. 23 was shut down in the 1970s along with many other schools in poorer communities citywide. In 1984, MOCA (then the New York Chinatown History Project) moved into the second floor of the building and would host reunions for former P.S. 23 students and teachers in 1988 and 2003. The site at 70 Mulberry Street currently hosts the museum’s Research and Collections Center.