Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

The artist and scholar gargoyles on 121st Street

November 12, 2018

Copper bay windows, grand arches, juliet balconies and a sloping roof: As university housing goes, the 8-story Bancroft Apartments are pretty fanciful.

Preeminent architect Emery Roth designed the building, which opened at 509 West 121st Street in 1910.

By 1920, it had been acquired by Columbia University’s Teachers College, just a block away in the city’s new Acropolis neighborhood, so named for the many schools in the area.

Considering that what’s now called Bancroft Hall ended up housing educators, it makes sense that the gargoyles decorating the facade are nods toward higher learning.

Behold the building’s wonderful painter and scholar (a writer perhaps, pointing to letters in a book?). I don’t think these characters represent any specific people but instead symbolize creativity, education, and imagination.

Walter Grutchfield has more on the Bancroft Apartments, including an amazing shot of an inscription on the upper wall. For more Morningside Heights gargoyles, check out these goofy gargoyle examples.

[Top photo: Columbia University]

A 12th Street home and school for destitute girls

August 27, 2018

There’s an unusual red brick building at 307 East 12th Street that has Victorian Gothic bells and whistles mixed with a Flemish-style gabled roof.

A home? A school? Turns out this four-story beauty originally served as both when it opened in 1892 as the Elizabeth Home for Girls.

Run by the Children’s Aid Society, one of many organizations dedicated to benevolence in the Gilded Age city, the Elizabeth Home took in girls whose families were either too poor to take care of them—or who didn’t have families at all.

“The handsome structure was designed as a home and training school for destitute girls, and is well adapted to the needs of the inmates,” a New York Times article stated on dedication day. (“Inmate” meant anyone living in an institutional setting.)

“Elizabeth” was the name of a deceased sister of Emily Wheeler, a New Yorker who first used her wealth to fund the earliest day nurseries for the kids of working mothers before purchasing the land on East 12th Street and turning her attention to the plight of homeless girls.

The goal was to help girls avoid the “evil influences of the streets,” according to an 1893 Times article.

Dormitories and bedrooms were on the upper floors, along with a dressmaking workroom. The first floor and basement consisted of a laundry, typing room, dining room and kitchen, and sewing machine area.

By “school,” the Children’s Aid Society didn’t mean reading and writing so much as preparing the girls who lived here to earn a living.

“The statistics of the home showed that in the last year 22 girls had been trained in the dressmaking department, 99 in the machine room, 24 in the laundry, and 35 in housework, while 108 had been sent to situations, 28 to employment, 44 returned to friends, and 44 to various institutions.”

The building’s architecture might look familiar.

It’s the work of Calvert Vaux, co-creator of Central Park, who decades later helped design several homes for boys and girls put up by the Children’s Aid Society, such as the Lodging House for Boys on Avenue B and the Mott Street 14th Ward Industrial School, both still extant.

Destitute girls continued to exist in New York, but the Elizabeth Home was sold in 1930, only to be reopened as a girls’ home in the 1940s by the Florence Crittenton League, which had its roots saving “fallen women” in the Gilded Age city.

By 1982, the unusual building became a co-op. Last year, a two-bedroom on the ground floor—where the “inmates” learned typewriting and sewing—sold for $1.3 million.

[Second photo: via GVSHP)

The Brooklyn high school pants protest of 1942

May 21, 2018

“Should high school girls, particularly students of Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean Parkway . . . be permitted to wear slacks to class?”

The question was asked by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March 1942, in an article about 16-year-old Beverly Bernstein (below). Bernstein was suspended from Lincoln for showing up to class wearing blue gabardine slacks.

“She wore them to school, along with a lipstick-red sweater,” the Eagle wrote, explaining that she was then sent to the office of the dean of girls, who apparently issued the suspension.

Outraged classmates showed their support by coming to school the next day in pants.

“Girls show up in slacks at Abraham Lincoln High School, in Brooklyn,in protest because a classmate, Beverly Bernstein, was suspended the day before for wearing slacks,” reads the caption on this Daily News/Getty Images photo.

These rule-breaking wartime students also circulated a petition, stating that girls should be allowed to wear pants because “they are better than skirts in the event of an air raid” and to “conserve silk stockings.”

Boys signed the petition as well, according to the Eagle.

The next day, the Eagle reported that Lincoln’s longtime principal decided that although he disapproved of slacks on girls, “if the girls wear them, we won’t get excited about it.”

This wasn’t the only Brooklyn high school student protest. In 1950, thousands of students across the borough walked out of class to support teacher pay raises.

Like Midwood and Madison, Lincoln is one of those legendary Brooklyn high schools with an impressive roster of graduates since opening in 1930—including Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, Mel Brooks, and Neil Diamond.

[Second photo: New York Daily News]

What remains of downtown’s “College Place”

April 16, 2018

On the side of a red brick walkup on West Broadway and Warren Streets is a gem of an old New York street sign: College Place.

It’s two stories up, visible from the street as well as the elevated train that ran up and down this stretch of West Broadway from 1878 to the 1930s.

What was College Place? This part of Lower Manhattan was the first home of King’s College, chartered in 1754 and renamed Columbia College after the Revolutionary War.

College Place became the name of the southern end of what was then known as Chapel Street in 1830; eventually Chapel Street merged with another road called Laurens Street to become today’s West Broadway in 1896.

Columbia relocated to the eventual site of Rockefeller Plaza in 1857; by the turn of the century, what was now called Columbia University occupied its present-day campus on Broadway in Morningside Heights.

The little street sign hiding in plain sight above a dry cleaners isn’t the only remnant of Columbia’s colonial-era downtown days.

A 1918 subway tile in the nearby Chambers Street Station, hard to see thanks to grime and soot, depicts the school’s first building.

[Third image: 1835 David Burr Map of New York City]

Girls’ High School is a Gothic dream in Bed-Stuy

March 26, 2018

“It is the ambition of every Brooklyn girl after graduating from the public schools to enter the Girls’ High School, where she may enjoy the advantages of advanced education, and be prepared for college or for more immediate concerns of life.”

That was the lead in a New York Times story about Girls’ High in 1895, when Brooklyn was a separate city known for its strong support of public schools.

The postcard at the top of the page gives us Girls’ High as a Victorian Gothic dream building, opened in 1886 at Nostrand Avenue and Halsey Street.

So proud of the school was the newly unified city that they put it on a postcard.

Today the combined Boys and Girls High School is on Fulton Street, and the old Girls’ building is an adult learning center.

[First image: NYPL; second image: 6tocelebrate.org]

Grotesque faces staring at you at Hunter College

July 24, 2017

The East 68th Street campus of Hunter College doesn’t look very collegiate, with its skywalks and square modernist buildings.

But there’s a wonderful exception to all those concrete boxes: Thomas Hunter Hall at 934 Lexington Avenue.

(Thomas Hunter was the first president of this former all-female teachers college founded in 1869, when it was known as Normal College.)

Designed in 1912 by Charles B.J. Snyder, the architect of so many of New York’s elementary and high schools at the turn of the century, this English Gothic castle of a college building features cathedral windows and rooftop turrets that give the impression of a Medieval fortress.

And if you look closely, you’ll see plenty of Gothic-style faces staring back at you.

The facade and twin spires flanking the entrance are packed with grotesques—some scary, some goofy with a sense of humor (like the guy in the glasses above, who has a pencil behind his ear).

Hunter College is part of the City University of New York, and it’s not the only CUNY building decorated with unique, cheeky grotesques.

Visit CUNY’s campus on 137th Street in Harlem—a Gothic architecture lover’s dream—and you’ll encounter the same kind of fun and mischievous characters, like this one, appropriately reading a book. (This is a college, after all!)

[Top photo: Hunter College]

All the reasons to love this Mott Street school

July 15, 2017

The gabled roof, the arched windows, the Victorian flourishes—there’s a lot to love about 256 Mott Street, the former Fourteenth Ward Industrial School between Prince and Houston Streets.

And it’s not just the lovely aesthetic or the fact that it’s across the street from the beautiful Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The school’s mission gets a thumbs up as well.

Built by the Children’s Aid Society in 1889, the funds were supplied by John Jacob Astor, who constructed it as a memorial to his wife (the Astors were big donors to the CAS, one of Gilded Age New York’s most prominent charities).

The lovely new school replaced an older industrial school not far away on Crosby Street. (Above, the school “playground” in 1890.)

If this Gothic red-brick style looks familiar, it may be because the architect was Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park.

Vaux was also the creative mind behind Jefferson Market Courthouse and some of the Children’s Aid Society other buildings, like the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys on East Eighth Street and Avenue B, which also served as an industrial school and has the same Gothic feel.

So what’s an industrial school? It’s a school intended to teach poor, usually immigrant kids to be “self-supporting,” as a New York Times article covering the dedication ceremony on February 8 put it.

Think of it as a school that mixed the usual academic lessons with trade and life skills classes and a heavy dose of patriotism.

“On the basement floor are a kitchen and dining rooms for teachers and pupils; on the floor above, kindergarten and primary schoolrooms, and the second floor two schoolrooms,” stated the Times. “The fourth has rooms for primary and industrial school work.”

The pupils at the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School were heavily Italian, the Times wrote—the children of newcomers who were rapidly recolonizing the tenement district that would soon be known as Little Italy.

“The memorial to Mrs. Astor will form an attractive center of industry, thrift, and cleanliness in a region which is noted for none of those characteristics,” the Times commented.

In the 1920s, the Industrial School was closed, and 256 Mott Street became Mulberry House, kind of a community center with a library and playground that offered “Americanization” classes and social opportunities.

Today of course, Mott Street is quite posh, and there’s no need for an industrial school or community center. What’s going on with number 256 today? It’s a co-op.

[Second photo: Jacob Riis. MCNY, 1890; 90.13.1.299; fifth photo: Gillon, MCNY, 1975; 2013.3.2.2061; sixth photo Jacob Riis, MCNY, 1890; 2008.1.21]

First day of school in New York: then and now

September 5, 2016

On September 8, public schools across the city will reopen their doors after summer break.

That’s about a week earlier than opening day in 1915, when kids headed back to “elementary, high, and training schools” on September 13.

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A moved-up first day isn’t the only difference between opening day in 2016 and opening day today.

In 1915, about 800,000 kids attended public school in New York City. Department of Education stats from 2015 put that number at just over a million students.

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Unlike their contemporary counterparts, teachers in 1915 were not unionized. Most were female, and once they became pregnant, they were fired.

This was actually an improvement over the previous longstanding, perfectly legal practice of booting teachers once they married. That rule was challenged in court in 1904.

Openingdaynycschoolsbain1915 girls

One thing hasn’t changed: overcrowding. In 1915, school “congestion” was so bad, thousands of kids were forced to go part-time while some schools, like Morris High School in the Bronx, held two sessions a day to accommodate everyone, according to the New York Times.

OpeningofpublicschoolsNYCbainloc

Oh, and (most) kids look just as excited on opening day 1915 as they typically do at back to school time—with what look like new clothes, hair ribbons, school bags, and caps for the boys, as these Library of Congress/George Bain images reveal.

Manhattan street names on tenement corners

August 12, 2016

If there’s an actual name for these cross streets carved or affixed to the corners of some city buildings, I don’t know what it is.

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But they’re fun to spot anyway. I’ve never seen one quite like this decorative sign on an otherwise unremarkable tenement at 169th Street and Broadway.

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Fancy, right? This one at Horatio and Washington Streets is also a notch above the usual corner address sign, which is typically carved into the facade in a plain font.

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A good example of the traditional style is this one below, worn and so faded it’s hard to see the letters, at Mott and Bleecker Streets.

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I’ve heard that these street signs are up high because they were meant to be seen from elevated trains. But there were no trains running on Mott and Bleecker, or Horatio and Washington.

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Or West End Avenue and 82nd Street, for that matter. This is a beauty of a sign that’s survived the elements on the circa-1895 facade of former Public School 9, now strangely called the Mickey Mantle School.

Some of my favorites are carved into tenements in the East Village. And of course, the loveliest in the city is at Hudson and Beach Streets.

Fencing team practice high over the Village

July 18, 2016

The New York University fencing team reveals a flair for the dramatic in this 1923 photo—especially the four guys on the edge of the roof beyond the railing.

NYUfencing1929

I’m not sure which building this is, but on the left is the Stanford White–designed Judson Church tower. In the foggy background is an apartment building on Washington Square West/Macdougal Street under construction.

[Photo: NYU archives]