Posts Tagged ‘Greenpoint history’

New York City’s oldest public school is in this 1867 building in Greenpoint

August 30, 2021

With its red brick facade, ornate entryway, and cathedral-like windows, Public School 34 in Greenpoint is a Romanesque Revival-style beauty.

But this elementary school that truly looks like a school also makes history.

Built in 1867 on Norman Avenue two years after the Civil War ended and President Lincoln was assassinated, it’s one of the oldest, and by some claims the oldest, public school building in New York City that’s still in use today.

Also called the Oliver H. Perry School—after the naval officer who helped defeat the British during the War of 1812—the building (below, in 1931) is rumored to have done a stint as a Civil War hospital.

“Walking inside the buildings long hallways, they certainly have the feel of hospital wards,” stated Geoff Cobb, a writer at, in 2016. “There are no four-walled classrooms, instead the long ward like halls have been divided up, but it is not hard to imagine that the building was once filled with wounded union soldiers.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission report that designates PS 34 a historical landmark doesn’t mention a hospital, though. Instead, it calls out the architectural loveliness of the school, as well as that it was built to serve a recently urbanized Greenpoint thanks to the booming shipbuilding industry along the East River.

It’s not a surprise that Brooklyn maintains such an early school building; the borough—which of course was a separate city at the time—was an educational leader back in the 19th century.

“Public education began in Brooklyn in 1816 and by the late 19th century had grown to the point that Brooklyn had one of the most extensive public education systems in the country,” wrote Andrew Dolkart in Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Today, PS 34 is a neighborhood school with a Polish-English dual language program, a reflection of the Polish immigrant community in Greenpoint. The site Brooklyn Relics has more gorgeous photos.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second photo: NYPL; third and fourth photos: Brooklynrelics]

Brooklyn’s “most perfect” 1886 apartment house

September 26, 2016

Charles Pratt was a stupendously wealthy kerosene-refinery owner who left his mark in Brooklyn with grand mansions on Clinton Avenue, donations to churches, and the founding of Pratt Institute in 1887.


But a few years earlier, he gained notoriety for another philanthropic endeavor: building affordable apartments for the families of the men who worked for his Astral Oil Works along the Greenpoint waterfront.


It goes without saying that livable flats were in great demand. New York has always had a shortage of housing and space for its middle- and working-class residents, and this true even in the booming city of Brooklyn in the late 19th century.

pratt“Not that there are not enough houses to supply tenants who desire to pay a monthly rental of $50 or over, but there is a lack of convenient houses to be had at a rental of less than $30,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in December 1886.

“At the present high price of ground in New York and Brooklyn it is doubtful if any number of small, cheap houses for the accommodation of persons of small means will ever be constructed.”

That’s where Pratt came in. Distressed by the crowded tenements available to working men and women and inspired by model housing built in London, he invested his own funds to build the Astral Apartments, a block-long, six-story edifice of brick and terracotta on Franklin Street meant to ease “the problem of how to live decently and economically,” as the Eagle put it.

astraltripadvisorWhen the Astral (“of the stars”) was unveiled, the design and amenities blew everyone away. Every room in the 120 three- to five-room units had a window—which meant light and ventilation, two precious commodities in the 19th century city.

For $10-$25 a month, tenants got extra closets, a coal box, sink, range, and a water closet in each flat, plus a lecture room in the basement and a spacious play area in the back.

thegildedageinnewyorkcover-1Interestingly, the Astral was slow to fill up; potential tenants apparently thought the building looked too much like a barracks or institution, according to one 1895 source.

But that didn’t stop the praise. The Astral “is the most perfect type of an apartment house in the world,” the Eagle stated. “Give the workingman and woman a chance to save a portion of their [sic] wages, and they will find means for educating their children and improving their personal welfare.”

Read more about the Gilded Age industrialists-turned-philanthropists who set out to improve housing for poor and working class New Yorkers in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, in stores Tuesday!

[First and third photos: Wikipedia; second image: American Architect and Architecture, 1895; fourth photo: TripAdvisor]