A Tree MAkes Way

| 31 May 2016 | 12:16

A tree will not grow on the Upper East Side.

For 40 years, Stanley Ely has looked out of his third floor bedroom windows on East 77th Street to see what he calls a “magnificent” tree. But, in the months to come, that tree, a garden, along with two East 78th Street townhouses will be torn down for an approved expansion plan for the Allen-Stevenson School nearby.

Ely is angry and heartbroken about the tree. “The real villain is the school because of the hypocrisy. They are educating young boys to be good citizens and I’ve seen their plans,” he said. “They could’ve planned something and not killed the tree, but they will use every inch of their property.”

The school’s headmaster, David Trower, does not dispute that. “We bought the property to use the full amount of space. It’s a trade-off,” he said.

Trower, though, said he also will grieve for the tree. “I love the tree and am going to miss it terribly, but we need the space to do really great things for future generations.”

Trower, headmaster at Allen-Stevenson since 1990, said the school’s expansion will include facilities for teaching about science and the natural world, as well as greater space for what he calls “the three A’s: academics, athletics and the arts.

The townhouse phase is expected to include a performing arts pavilion and a greenhouse, as well as facilities for painting, drawing, ceramics and woodworking.

Work on the project, which was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in January 2015, has begun. The facades for 126 and 128 East 78th Street are being braced and saved, while the structures will come down and replaced by one five story building to align with Allen-Stevenson’s current schoolhouse, which has been in use since 1924.

While noting that “construction is never an easy process,” Trower said that before the project was approved, he appeared at local community board meetings to explain what they were planning and that they “want to be good neighbors.”

Martin Bush, a neighbor of Ely’s, who is not as invested in the life of the tree, is still none too pleased with the expansion plans. “With the building going right up to the property line, the expansion will block a great deal of my light,” he said.

Last fall, New York City celebrated the planting of over one million trees, an initiative started during former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s term and completed under current Mayor Bill.DeBlasio. “DeBlasio is very keen on planting trees and in the face of that, this tree’s getting killed,” Ely said.

“Systematically, they have destroyed every bit of ‘green’, but I understand they are going ahead, so any benefit from this [exposure] would be pure embarrassment to them.”

Trower, on the other hand, is excited for what lies ahead. “The school serves the neighborhood and community in so many ways and the building project will provide benefits for many over future decades, not just a few,” he said. “I plan to see this project through.”

If Trower is looking ahead, Ely has looked to preserve something of the past, in this six-line ode to a 40-year companion:

A tree so proud, heavy, full but graceful.

Unbothered by years of ice, of snow, of wind.

It slept, reawakened and blossomed.

Cherished by those who saw it, until some threw it away.

Much will you be missed.

Thanks for all you gave.