Vanderbilt Avenue & Sterling Place

15 May

All right, it’s time to start talking about someone other than the rich folks for a change. But man, it can be hard; I seem especially drawn toward corners distinguished by large landmarks, ornately designed and realized — material wealth made flesh, or stone at least. Old mansions, skyscrapers, fancy apartment buildings. What can I say? I’m a classy guy, with a reserved and undemanding disposition and a fine, peppery after-taste.  A nice mellow finish. You might also pick up on some subtle notes of blueberry, lemon peel, and tar. I go very well with most Italian foods, goldfish, and egg salad. Or anytime you wanna get the gang together and just have a little fun!

Oh boy. So what else is there to look at in this city? Do I really need to ask that question? The other day I passed by the old Public School 9 Annex, on Vanderbilt Avenue and Sterling Place in Prospect Heights. It’s across the street from the original Public School 9, which is now Intermediate School 340. They’re both beautiful buildings, although it’s the Annex that particularly catches the eye. P.S. 9 goes back to 1868, finished before Prospect Park was completed, and just a few years after horse-drawn streetcars had opened up the neighborhood to urban (or suburban) development. Population growth was enough to warrant additions built in 1887, and by 1895 the overcrowding necessitated an entirely new building, the Annex, to be constructed across the street. P.S. 9 was designed in a Romanesque Revival style and the Annex kept along in that same vein, although more spectacularly. Apparently by 1895 Romanesque Revival, used throughout Brooklyn in the decades before, had become a bit unfashionable and out of date. I’m glad they stuck with it though. This is one of the prettiest old school buildings in all of New York.

The “they,” specifically, who stuck with it was James W. Naughton, the Superintendent of Buildings and Repairs for the Brooklyn Board of Education from 1879 to 1898. He was responsible for the design of all of Brooklyn’s public schools during that time period, and a large number of them are landmarked sites today. His predecessor, and the designer of P.S. 9, was Samuel B. Leonard, who had served in the post since its creation in 1859.  A lot of his designs still stand as well, including P.S. 34 in Greenpoint, on Norman Avenue, one of the oldest public schools still in use in the city today.  Both men were the only two to ever hold the title of Superintendent of Buildings.  James Naughton’s death in 1898 coincided with the annexation of Brooklyn by New York, at which point the Board was subsumed into the much larger New York City municipal government.

The city of Brooklyn was one of the earliest in the United States to start organized public education, beginning in 1816.  By the time it became a part of New York it was amongst the most extensive school systems in the country.  Now sure, I’m a fan of all things Brooklyn, but doesn’t that seem appropriate?  I mean it was Brooklyn, or New York in general, that invented public living, right?  Though that’s not quite it; public living – a social community inhabiting the same physical space – is humankind’s initial social paradigm.  I should say Brooklyn carried on the torch for public living, as most of the rest of America perhaps moved away from it.  You know what I’m saying?  You gotta live it right out on the streets in this burg, cause where else is it gonna happen?  Your business is everybody’s business, whether you want it to be or not, and vice versa — there’s no lawns and driveways separating us.  And that’s exactly how it should be.  If nothing else, New Yorkers are familiar; that’s where all the other stereotypes about their attitudes come out of.

Myself, the only reason I was even in this neighborhood was because I’d come down to wash my friend’s dishes, at a fee of $20 an hour, pro-rated, with a meal included equal to at least $6 in value.  Now how’s that for making the private space public?  It worked out pretty well.  The meal was good sushi, although I also had to empty out the garbage afterwards.  No biggie.  I think he asked me not to tell his girlfriend about it though.  Well sorry sucker!  This is Brooklyn, ya heard?

(Originally posted May 29th, 2009 on


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