A dazzling relic of an old city school building

Not only did the city used to construct light, airy, inspiring school houses a century ago, but they installed pretty sweet brass doorknobs, like this one.


I imagine having these in every hallway gave school buildings a little extra specialness, which fed school spirit and pride.

PS177marketmonroests.jpg1922Remnants like this of demolished schools pop up for sale online occasionally. And Olde Good Things on West 24th Street just got some in.

A pair might run you a couple hundred bucks, but they are enchanting. How many little kid hands touched this one over the years?

I wish I knew which school it came from—perhaps one of these two beauties, PS 177 formerly on Market and Monroe Streets or PS 103, once at 49 East 119th Street.


Both photos were shot in the 1920s, and both are part of the NYPL Digital Collection.

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18 Responses to “A dazzling relic of an old city school building”

  1. Pontifikate Says:

    Ah, those were the days when the word “public” was not considered an epithet and we were proud of our public education system. We still should be. Shame on us.

  2. Bob Says:

    I remember these well, they used to be all over my elementary school, P.S. 164 in Queens. I think they were all over the outside doors, especially in the front of the building, and some rooms in the building as well. I will have to go look at the front of my old school soon and check if they are still there.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It never occurred to me that some of these might still be on doors in schools. They wouldn’t work with building codes today, I believe.

  4. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    They were on interior doors, to my recollection, including classrooms, offices and closets. I remember them from my school days in PS 189, Brooklyn, PS 64 Queens and the orginal Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, in the 1960s and 70s.

  5. MamaV Says:

    My son’s 100-year old school in Brooklyn still has plenty of them! Not nearly as shiny these days, though… 😉

  6. Spotted: Vintage New York City Public School Door Knobs | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] last Thursday at Torrisi, a restaurant in Nolita. Curious about the relic, we were excited to see Ephemeral New York just posted an article about the doorknobs two days ago on where to find […]

  7. Jill Says:

    Both my JHS and HS had these knobs in the 70’s

  8. Trixie Says:

    I have a pair of those in plain aluminum. I may be buying a home soon and I look forward to putting them in a place of honor there.

    • Bob Says:

      Place of honor=bathroom?

      • Trixie Says:

        Probably not the bathroom for my beloved knobs. There’s an old door from a local Post Office that connects my kitchen to my Florida Room, and I think I’ll use them there

        @Bob from August 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm

  9. RD Wolff Says:

    Those doorknobs were produced by the tens of thousands, hundreds in every school building, they are a nice design for sure, though they all over Ebay every week for sale. There’s also modern reproductions now on the market so you almost can’t be sure any more if one you find for sale is a real antique or a knock-off of one with applied patina.
    The original knobs were always bronze or brass, most seemed to have been made by Corbin, never any original knobs made from aluminum- they used quality materials in the old days.

  10. Curating New York (@CuratingNewYork) Says:

    When I was a teacher in a school in the Bronx (and this was recently) a few of the classrooms still had the original doorknobs. I was always really jealous that mine didn’t.

  11. RD Wolff Says:

    The city of Reading PA apparantly had their own design for Public School knobs because I’ve seen one, it depicted a woman in a dress with an open book and two children if I remember right, and then it had the city name and Public School on it.
    I suspect Chicago and other urban cities had similar knobs in the era.

  12. James Thompson Says:

    I attended second grade at PS 177 !!!

  13. Frank Schorn Says:

    There’s still at least one left in operation at IS 50.

  14. Robert Says:

    I have two perfect set of the brass or copper…(not sure) taken from the abandoned Haaren high when we shot Fame (called “Hot lunch” during shooting) in Manhattan. I have them on my Apt front door and my bathroom door for the past 30+ years or so. I see others not as nice go for 150.00, a set on Ebay, but I won’t part with these. You can’t make a knock off that looks and feels like these.

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