Building of the Day: 251 Sterling Place

The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 251 Sterling Place, corner of Vanderbilt Avenue
Name: Public School 9 Annex
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1895
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival with classical accents
Architect: James Naughton
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1978), also National Register of Historic Places

Why chosen: James Naughton was the Superintendent of Buildings of the Brooklyn School System between 1879 and his death in 1898. During that time, he was the sole architect of over 100 Brooklyn school buildings, many of which still stand.

In my opinion, his masterpiece is Boys High School in Bed Stuy, followed by Girls High, also in Bed Stuy, and this building, the P.S. 9 Annex. It was built to house the overflow from P.S. 9, a much smaller building built in 1868, which is across the street.

The population of Prospect Heights had greatly expanded in the years between 1868 and 1895, as the entire area was developed into fine rowhouse blocks in the late ’80s-’90s, all anchored to the success of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, now the Brooklyn Museum.

The classical detail in the columns, capitals and ornament of this building are a nod to the museum’s Beaux-Arts classical design, while staying anchored to a very attractive Romanesque Revival core.

The building is sandstone and brick, an H shaped structure, with all of the protruding dormers, towers, chimneys, colonnets and terra-cotta ornament that Naughton loved, and used so well, especially in his Boys High School.

This building is much more restrained, but escapes the gloomy fate of many large Victorian institutions by the use of a light pinkish sandstone, terra-cotta, and brick, with exuberant ornamentation and lots and lots of windows.

Those, of course, have practical applications, as electric lights were just coming into wide usage, and windows also provided air and ventilation.

The building had been decommissioned as a school by the time it was landmarked in 1978, and was being used by various community organizations. It became residential co-ops in the late 1980s/early 1990s and now has 21 units.

It remains one of Prospect Heights’ most beautiful buildings.

All photographs by Suzanne Spellen

251 Sterling, PS9 Annex, early 20th c, BPL

Early-20th-century photo via Brooklyn Public Library

251 Sterling, PS9 Annex, 1920s, BPL

1920s photograph via Brooklyn Public Library

251 Sterling, PS9 Annex, SSpellen 1

251 Sterling, PS9 Annex, SSpellen 3

251 Sterling, PS9 Annex, SSpellen 4

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