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(Former) Colored School No. 3 | by Emilio Guerra
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(Former) Colored School No. 3

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

 

The former Colored School No. 3 schoolhouse is a one-and-half story red brick building located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Built in 1879-81, it was designed by architect Samuel B. Leonard, the Superintendent of Buildings and Repairs for the Brooklyn Board of Education from 1859 to 1879. The only known "colored" school building remaining in Brooklyn, it evokes that city's policy of race-based school segregation during much of the nineteenth century.

 

Romanesque Revival in style, the school building has arched window openings and a prominent entrance with large keystones, a raised central section with a gable and blind arcade, corbelled brickwork, and dentil courses. The exterior of the building remains largely intact.

 

Colored School No. 3 as an institution evolved from the town of Williamsburgh's original African Free School, which had been founded prior to 1841. The school was taken over by the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn in 1855, when it was given the name "Colored School No. 3." It was renamed P.S. 69 in 1887, and was later absorbed by the school system of the City of New York after the consolidation of 1898. The Board of Education relinquished control of the building in 1934.

 

In 1873, the state passed the Civil Rights Act, which was intended to end segregation in public life, but it was not uniformly enforced. The black community itself was divided over the implementation of the law as it pertained to education. The supporters of integration argued that separate schools were a humiliation to their race, while the segregationists contended that the colored schools were beneficial to black students and the black community. One concern of the latter group was the fate of the black principals and teachers who staffed the colored schools.

  

These positions were among the few professions available for African-Americans, who were generally forced into low-paying, low-status jobs, regardless of their qualifications. It was feared that this career outlet for African-Americans and the function of these professionals as role models in the community would disappear. Partly as a consequence of this division within the black community, the Brooklyn Board did not act on integration, and the schoo! districts continued to bar black children from attending the regular public schools.

 

In spite of numerous court challenges, the Brooklyn Board of Education remained firmly committed to its segregation policy, and with the support of some black parents, began to rebuild obsolete colored school buildings. The Colored School No. 3 schoolhouse was replaced by the existing structure in 1879, and as late as 1883, a year before the Board of Education changed its policy on segregation, a new building for Colored School No. 1 in Fort Greene was opened.

 

The New York City Board of Education ignored the Civil Rights Act of 1873, but in 1878 adopted an incremental desegregation plan that would have closed the colored schools by 1883; the limit was later changed to 1889. However, provisions were not made for the transfer of black teachers and principals to the regular public schools upon their closing.

 

Black citizens and the Teachers' Association protested, obtaining state legislation in 1883 that protected the jobs of the existing black teachers and prevented the dosing of the colored schools, while ordering that they admit pupils of all races. However, the Board only partially conformed to the law, and several of the colored schools continued to be segregated. Nevertheless, the legislation had the practical effect of gradually bringing about the end of officially segregated schools as the "changing patterns of black residency left most of the schools . . . poorly located for serving black families."'"

 

In 1882, Seth Low, the new mayor of Brooklyn and a reformer, appointed the first African-American to the Board of Education, Philip A. White," who became chairman of the committee in charge of the colored schools.'* White, who opposed forced segregation, was instrumental in implementing a change the following year which decreed that no public school could exclude black students but that the colored schools would remain open to children whose parents chose these schools.

White also abhorred the term "colored school," and in 1887, the three colored schools were finaliy renamed to conform with the numbering system of the other public schools, Nos. 67, 68, and 69. respectively. However, they continued to serve black students only and to be categorized by the Board of Education as colored schools.'^ By 1890, the number of black students attending Brooklyn's other public schools exceeded those in the "colored" schools. The first attempt to integrate one of the colored schools with an existing public school occurred in 1893, when P.S. 68, originally Colored School No. 2, was merged, after much debate, with the nearby P.S. 83 in Crown Heights. The schoo! included "a white principal, a black head of department, and black and white teachers and students."'"* While generally considered a success, the experiment was not repeated.

 

In 1898, Brooklyn became part of the consolidated City of New York. At that time, Brooklyn retained two colored schoois, P.S. 67 and P.S. 69. The remainder of its public schools were legally integrated. Black enrollment in each school depended on the racial make-up of its particular neighborhood.

 

In 1900, the State legislature strengthened the anti-segregation law; at that time, New York City stil! had two colored schools in Brooklyn (P.S. 67 and P.S. 69), one in Manhattan (P.S. 81), and coiored schools in the recently annexed areas of Jamaica and Flushing, Queens. Although legally integrated, these schools continued to be perceived by students, staff, and the public as 'colored' schools, and were exclusively attended by blacks.

 

In 1901, P.S. 69 was eliminated as an entity due to the declining b!ack population in the area. P.S. 67 as an entity continues to this day, although the colored school building in which it was originally housed was replaced in the 1920s.

 

The Development of the Public School Building in Brooklyn

 

In Brooklyn, it is possible to trace the architectural evolution of the public school as a building type from an early simple form which was an integral part of its surroundings to one which dominated its environment, thus indicating the prominent role education came to play in the community. During the 1850s, Brooklyn began to be transformed from a small, semi-suburban town dependent on the neighboring city of New York and the outlying farms of rural Long island into a densely populated industrialized city. As it changed, so did the architectural character of its public institutions, such as public schools. The first schools were simple, modest structures closely related to residential architecture.

 

Samue! B. Leonard (1821-1879), served as the Superintendent of Buildings and Repairs for the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn from 1859 until his death in 1879.

 

During his tenure, he designed forty public schools for the Brooklyn Board of Education. Besides Colored School No. 3, they include P.S. 34 (1867, 1870), P.S.9 (1867-68), P.S. 65 (1870), and P.S. 39 (1876-77), all designated New York City landmarks. Prior to his association with the Board of Education, Leonard was a local Brooklyn builder.

 

By the end of the 1850s, particularly after 1858, the year in which Samue! B. Leonard was elected Superintendent of Buildings and Repairs by the Board, public schools began to acquire a readily identifiable character as public institutional buildings. The style Leonard preferred at the time was the a style related to the

Romanesque Revival as expressed in contemporary German architecture.

 

Some of the qualities that recommended the style were: rapidity of construction, economy of material and workmanship, durability, ample fenestration, and the ease of adding extensions without gross violation to the original fabric. All these qualities made the style idea! for public schools. Former Public School 13 (1861) on Degraw Street in Cobble Hill, former Public School 15 (1860) on the northeast comer of Third Avenue and State Street, Public School 34 (1867, 1870, 1887-88), a designated New York City

Landmark, on Norman Avenue in Greenpoint, and Public School 111 (1867, 1888), also a designated Landmark, on Sterling Place and Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights are extant examples.

 

Although they possess an institutional character, these buildings were in scale with their surroundings and did not overpower or overwhelm their neighbors; the schools blended with their environment rather than commanded it.

In the 1870s, Leonard changed his style for schools and began to design in the French-inspired Second Empire style whose prominent characteristics are pavilions which add plasticity and verticality to the facade, and mansards which enhance the pavilions and create bold silhouettes. A new feature introduced at this time was the tall, central entrance tower. The neighborhood public school was now a symbol of cosmopolitan modernity recalling the grand buildings and palaces of Napoleon Ill's newly redesigned Paris.

 

The mansarded public school with its tower now vied with the church steeple as the most prominent element in the skyline of a nineteenth residential neighborhood. The change in architectural style also marks a change in the attitude toward public education. The idea of publicly supported universal education which took firm root in the 1840s, was now one of the most important responsibilities of government and this new importance was reflected in the new architectural prominence of the public school building.

 

It was also during the 1870s that changes in teaching methods caused important changes in the interior planning of schools. Early teaching methods required large, undivided assembly spaces with smaller, ancillary classrooms. In the 1870s, there was a shift in emphasis to specialized instruction requiring more classrooms and less assembly space.Important advances were also made in fireproof construction and sanitary facilities. One of the first schools designed with this new plan was Leonard's Public School 24. Now demolished, it stood on the comer of Wall and Beaver Streets in Bushwick.

The History of the Neighborhood^'

 

During the seventeenth century, Williamsburgh was a rural, sparsely populated section of the town of Bushwick, one of the original six towns that comprise what is now Brooklyn. The town center was located near the present intersection of

 

Colored School No. 3 had its origins in Williamsburgh's African Free School, which was founded prior to 1841 by local black leaders Willis Hodges, Samuel Ricks, T. Wilson, Jacob Fields, and William J. Hodges. When the Williamsburgh district school system was established in 1844, the black school was taken over by the trustees, and placed in a district school building on North 1st Street between Third Street (now Berry Street) and Fourth Street (now Bedford Avenue).

 

The following year it had 70 students. In 1850, enrollment grew to 145 students and the schoo! was relocated to a building at Union Avenue and Keap Street. Upon Williamsburgh's consolidation with the City of Brooklyn in 1855, the school was moved again to old Bush wick District School No. 1 on Union Avenue near North 2nd Street (now Metropolitan Avenue). By 1868, the school had relocated once again to a building at its present site, Union Avenue between Scholes and Stagg Streets.

 

In early 1875, Samuel B. Leonard, the Superintendent of Buildings and Repairs of the Brooklyn Board of Education, declared the Colored Schoo! No. 3 building to be unfit, recommending that "....the old building be sold, and an appropriation of twelve thousand dollars be put in the budget for a new brick building built one story high, 27 feet wide, and 85 feet deep."^ The Board did not act on his request, which he repeated in 1877

 

Several notable African-Americans were associated with Colored School No. 3. Maria Stewart taught there in the mid-1840s, and was later its assistant principal. Hezekiah Green was appointed principal in 1847, followed by Samuel S. Rankins, who served in that position until his death in 1874. Two outstanding educators, Sarah J.S. Tompkins and Georgiana F. Putnam began their careers in the school in the mid-1850s. Brooklyn's first black female principal, Catherine Clow, became head of the schoo! in 1876 and served in that position for many years.

 

Subsequent History

 

Colored School No. 3 was renumbered P.S. 69 in June 1887 when the Board of Education integrated the numeration of the colored schools with the numbering system of the other public schools. Nevertheless, P.S. 69 continued to enroll an exclusively black student body. By this time, however, its enrollment had begun to drop as African-Americans moved from Williamsburg to other Brooklyn neighborhoods and black parents increasingly opted to send their children to the regular public schools. Public School 69 lost its independent status in 1896 when it was annexed to nearby P.S. 19, although it continued to be known officially as P.S. 69. Upon the consolidation of the City of Brooklyn with the greater City of New York in 1898, P.S. 69, along with all of Brooklyn's existing public schools, came under the jurisdiction of the New York City Board of Education. In 1901, it was officially renamed P.S. 19 Annex. In 1919, it became an annex of P.S. 18, another nearby public school. In 1924, an independent school, P.S. 191, opened in the building. The Board of Education closed P.S. 191 in 1934, relinquishing ownership of the property to the Public Works Commission, which used it for the federal Civil Works Administration during the Depression of the 1930s. Later it was occupied by the Department of Sanitation. It is presently in private ownership.

Description

 

The Romanesque Revival style school is a one-and-one-half-story, freestanding building with a raised basement. It has a hipped roof and a gabled dormer extending to the line of the facade. The building, situated on a iot which is 75 feet wide and 100 feet deep, is set back from the property line and has a small front yard and garden enclosed by chain link and iron fencing. The narrow side yards,^ which contain areaways with historic bluestone paving and steps leading to the basement entrances, are enclosed by corrugated aluminum partitions.

 

The building is 46 feet wide, 57 feet deep, and 24 feet high. The facade is of Philadelphia brick with brownstone trim, stoop, and water table. Paired pilasters divide the facade into three sections: a central section, which contains the entryway and dormer facade, flanked by side sections with two window bays each. The doorway and the first-story windows have compound, round-arched openings with large keystones and impost blocks. The doorway has a round-arched transom light and non-historic wood and iron doors. The window openings, which are presently covered with plywood,^ sit above brownstone sills and decorative brick panels. Brick moldings with corbelled ends extend above the door and windows. The side sections are crowned by a wooden cornice with dentils.

 

The dormer features paired round-arched windows, a blind arcade, corbelled brickwork, and heavy comer piers with decorative brickwork, supported by curving brownstone brackets. The dormer windows, which have wood sash, share a common sil! and have prominent keystone and brick moldings following the curves of the arches. The gable is topped by stone coping. The less developed side elevations are of North River red brick and have segmental window openings covered by corrugated aluminum shutters. The side elevations are crowned by wooden cornices with curved brackets. Prominent vents with finials stand atop the roof. The building's exterior remains largely intact.

 

- From the 1998 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report

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Taken on February 20, 2010