Walkabout: A Guide to James W. Naughton, Master of Brooklyn School Architecture

It’s School Week here on Brownstoner. Stay tuned for more school-themed stories celebrating the start of the school year.

Here’s a look at some of the best school buildings in the city of Brooklyn, and the man who designed them.

Schools have always been important in Brooklyn. The second school in the entire New Amsterdam colony was built here, in Williamsburgh in 1662. The first Brooklyn public school was also in Williamsburgh, opening in 1826.

In 1855, the City of Brooklyn incorporated. It established a Brooklyn Board of Education and chose Samuel B. Leonard as its first Superintendent of Buildings, a position that entailed designing and overseeing all of the school construction in this growing city.

Leonard held the position from 1859-79 and was succeeded by James W. Naughton, who held the position from 1879-98.

For almost 20 years, Naughton designed ALL of the schools built in Brooklyn, totaling more than 100 buildings.

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo via Brooklyn Eagle Almanac

An Irish immigrant with talent and connections

James W. Naughton was an immigrant success story. Born in Ireland, his family immigrated to Brooklyn when he was 8. He was educated in Brooklyn public and private schools, and at 15 he moved to Milwaukee to apprentice to architects J&A Douglas.

In 1859 he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin for two years, then finished his architectural schooling at Cooper Union in Manhattan. He was very active in Brooklyn politics, and from 1874-76 he served as the Superintendent of Buildings for the City of Brooklyn.

In 1878 he took over from Samuel Leonard and held his position until his death in 1898. He was the last man to hold the job before it was eliminated in the consolidation of New York City.

Some of Naughton’s finest schools are still standing. Others were torn down and replaced with larger buildings as Brooklyn’s school population exploded in the early and mid 20th century.

Many of his schools are still used as schools. Some are city public schools, many are now charter schools and some were sold to religious groups for use as private schools. Some of his finest school buildings have been repurposed as housing, or as community and art centers.

The following are some of the Naughton schools that have been featured on Brownstoner over the years, and there are still more out there.

Follow the links below for more school information and photographs.

Girls High School

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo by Jim Henderson via Wikipedia Commons

Girls High School, at 475 Nostrand Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant, was built in 1885-6, and is a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic and Second Empire style. Originally designed to hold both boys and girls, it was too small for both before it even opened. The boys had to wait for their own school.

This was the first public secondary school built in Brooklyn and all of New York City. Girls High School became a prototype for Manhattan’s first high schools. The location was a coup for the fast-growing upscale neighborhood of Bedford.

Notable GHS alumni include Shirley Chisholm, Lena Horne, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn author Betty Smith and Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch.

Boys High School

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

Boys High School, at nearby Marcy and Putnam Streets, is James Naughton’s finest work.

It is a monumental example of the Romanesque Revival style, characterized by round, arched openings, contrasting smooth and rough surfaced stone work, and, most of all, powerful massing, often swelled with rounded bays, porches and towers. It opened in 1891.

Public School 9 Annex

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

P.S. 9 Annex, on Vanderbilt and Sterling, was built in 1895 to enlarge the old P.S. 9, designed by Samuel B. Leonard, just across the street.

As Prospect Heights developed as an upper-middle-class enclave — with new homes, Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Academy of Arts and Science nearby — the new school was seen as a complement to its neighbors. It is now a highly desirable co-op building.

P.S. 108

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

This school at 200 Linwood Street in Cypress Hills, on the corner of Arlington Avenue, was built in 1895, toward the end of Naughton’s career. It’s a large building, one of the few to still be used as a regular public school.

P.S. 26

Brooklyn school buildings James W. Naughton

Photo by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark

P.S. 26, now the Excelsior Charter School, is on the Bedford Stuyvesant/Ocean Hill border, at 848 Quincy Street.

P.S. 52

brooklyn-school-buildings-james-w-naughton 2

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

This former schoolhouse at 330-334 Ellery Street is now called “The Schoolhouse” and is used as a live/work center for the arts. Built in 1883, this school once served the primary school needs of a growing Bushwick community.

School in top photo: P.S. 107 in Park Slope, another Naughton School.

What's Happening