Building of the Day: 237 Seventh Avenue


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: 237 7th Ave, between 4th and 5th Streets
Name: Secondary School for Law, Journalism and Research, formerly John Jay HS, originally the Manual Training School.
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1904
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: CBJ Snyder
Landmarked: No

Why chosen: According to education reformers of the late 19th century, there were three kinds of industrial education: trade schools, which taught a trade and turned out craftsmen; technical schools which turned out scientific specialists and professionals, such as engineers and architects; and manual trading schools, which seek to develop complete manhood and womanhood by developing dexterity of both head and hand. (The Encyclopdia of Social Reform, 1897) Here in Brooklyn, the schools were the brainchild of William Henry Maxwell, who was the Associate Superintendent of Brooklyn Schools in 1882, who then rose to the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1887. Brooklyn’s first Manual Training School opened in 1893, a makeshift school in downtown Brooklyn, but by 1904, he and CBJ Snyder had successfully lobbied for, and built this fine building in Park Slope. CBJ Snyder was the highly influential and talented Superintendent of School Building for the City of NY, between 1891 and 1923. Maxwell later regretted only opening the school to boys, whose daily schedule included 2 hours of book work, 1 hour of industrial drawing, and 2 hours of lab or shop work, which was specially coordinated to correspond with the other studies. Students took history, Latin, math, literature and writing classes. This model was repeated in Manhattan, at Stuyvesant High School, which was founded as Manhattan’s Manual Training School. The building is quite large, and is a typical Snyder school, with an “H” plan, with plenty of large windows, creating light filled classrooms facing the street and the interior. It’s an early Snyder school, and certainly not his best work, but does have those wonderfully ornate sculpted entryways, with excellent carved busts of students, as well as finely defined leaf and scrollwork. The original ornate roofline and cornice is long gone. The school remained the Manual Training School until the 1960’s, when the name was changed to the John Jay School.

Unfortunately, it had become the dumping ground for the Board of Ed, who transferred their problem kids there, giving rise to the legend that the movie The Blackboard Jungle was based on the school. (Turns out it wasn’t, but the depiction was accurate enough.) 20 years later, it was still known as the Thug School, and had a constant police presence outside to try to prevent the frequent muggings and purse snatchings, while violence raged inside. In 2003, Manual Training was closed, and the school reopened as three specialty middle schools, one each for Law, Journalism, and Research. This fall, in 2011, a new Millenium 2 High School is set to open in the school as well, amidst controversy about parental and student notification, segregation and special treatment for wealthier students, racism, and the usual mix of issues that make up public education in NYC.


(Postcard from 1907.)

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