Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Paul Robeson High School, originally Commercial High School
Address: 142-150 Albany Avenue, between Dean and Bergen Streets
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: somewhere between 1898 and 1906.
Architectural Style: Beaux-Arts
Architect: C.B.J. Snyder
Other buildings by architect: Erasmus Hall HS, former John Jay HS, old Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan, and many, many more.
The story: Charles B.J. Snyder was probably the most influential school architect in New York City’s history. A complete list of his buildings, mostly schools, would have over 400 entries. He was Superintendent of School Buildings for the New York City Board of Education between 1891 and 1923. These kinds of appointments often go to politically connected people with more connections than talent, but the education gods were smiling when Snyder got the job. For the next 32 years, he would change the way children were educated in NY by improving upon the spaces that housed that education. One of Snyder’s early and most influential designs was the H shaped school building, which he used in the Commercial HS. An H shaped plan, with two side courts, allows each wing, and every classroom, to have plenty of light and air, through large windows. It also provides an impressive courtyard entrance, and an enclosed recreation space, off the street, and under control of the school. Snyder’s expertise as an engineer caused him to utilize the new steel skeleton construction techniques that allowed faster construction, higher buildings, and larger windows. Commercial High School, like its counterpart in Manhattan, was established to train students in the commercial skills, for jobs in clerical, bookkeeping and secretarial positions. Like all schools in NY, times and needs change. By the 1980’s, the school was called Alexander Hamilton Vocational HS. It was closed in 1984 by then School’s Chancellor Anthony Alvarado, to re-open in 1985 as Paul Robeson High School. The school was designed to attract a student body interested in business and technical careers, and until 2004, was considered one of Brooklyn’s finer high schools, according to the NY Times. Unfortunately, only two or three years later, due to a large influx of kids from failing schools, it was on the worst list again, and was one of 2 Brooklyn HS slated to close. This coming fall, with much controversy, the school will reopen again as a new public high school, underwritten by the IBM Corporation, to be called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech. It’s a first of a kind alliance between Bloomberg’s Dept. of Ed. and a multinational corporation. IBM will be shaping the curriculum, providing funds for infrastructure, and offering internships and mentoring.
(Postcard dated 1907)
(Photo: Tax photo 1970’s via Property Shark)
(Bust over an entrance on Bergen Street)