Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former Public School 26, now Excelsior Charter School
Address: 848 Quincy Street
Cross Streets: Ralph and Patchen avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1890-91
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: James W. Naughton
Other Buildings by Architect: Many of Brooklyn’s finest school buildings, including Boys High School, Girls High School, PS 70, all in Bedford Stuyvesant. Also PS 9 Annex in Prospect Hts, PS 107 in Park Slope, PS 108 in Cypress Hills, among many others.
The story: The neighborhood around yesterday’s Building of the Day, 838 Quincy Street, yielded several other interesting buildings. This one was the most spectacular of all.
Even before the Civil War, there were more than enough students in this part of Brooklyn to cause the Brooklyn Board of Education to build a school here. In 1856, the first PS 26 opened in a wood-framed building on Ralph Avenue and New Bushwick Lane.
A year later, the city purchased eight lots of land between Ralph and Patchen Avenues, opening up onto Gates and Quincy Streets. It took them a while, but in 1869, the new school, a three story brick building, opened for business.
This building was designed by the Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn. That mouthful of a position was held by Samuel B. Leonard until 1878. He crafted an attractive school building in an early Romanesque Revival style with Italianate details. It is similar to his PS 9 on Sterling Place at Vanderbilt Avenue.
By the 1880s, the school’s population had grown considerably, as this part of Bedford was rapidly developing with streets of masonry row houses and flats buildings, as well as factories, churches, stores and other necessary buildings.
By this time, the new Superintendent of Brooklyn School Buildings was James W. Naughton. This Irish-born, Cooper Union educated architect was well suited for the job, masterfully creating some of Brooklyn’s finest school architecture.
He is best remembered for his magnificent Boys High School, as well as Girls High School, PS 9 Annex on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, as well as many more. His career spanned twenty years, during which time he designed over a hundred Brooklyn schools. Perhaps a third of them still survive.
Naughton built a new school building facing Quincy Street in his signature Romanesque Revival style. This building was going up the same time Boys High School was being built, and there are similarities in the design, although Boys High is much more complex, ornate and beautiful. The two schools share the Romanesque massing, and Naughton’s use of dormers and arched windows flanked by columns and terra cotta trim.
Naughton used the old Leonard building as an annex to his much larger school. His new building expanded the size of the school from 22 classrooms to 40, plus a large auditorium, and other modern school features. It also switched the main entrance from Gates to Quincy Street.
In 1945, the school was featured in a piece in the Brooklyn Eagle about the “new” education system being developed for NYC schools. They were going to begin to teach students about other cultures, the contribution of African Americans to American culture, and the paths and responsibilities of citizenship.
They were also going to start teaching less by rote, and more by introducing reasoning skills, and hands-on skills. The photo in the paper showed elementary school boys building a bench in a shop class. According to the paper, PS 26 was the first elementary school to offer classes of this kind.
During Easter recess in the spring of 1950, the older Leonard building caught fire at three in the morning. The blaze turned into a five alarm conflagration, which burned out the roof, and gutted the entire annex. The 100 firefighters at the scene were able to save the newer building, as well as surrounding homes.
But the school would be closed for many months. Over 1,200 students had to be relocated to nearby schools, severely overcrowding an already overcrowded system. The residents complained to Borough President Cashmore for years, needing at least two new schools. Finally, PS 209 was built a couple of blocks away, on Monroe Street and Ralph Avenue.
The annex was never repaired, and was torn down, leaving just the Naughton school. During the late 1960s, the neighborhood problems spilled into the school, and there were severe problems with vandalism. There were 15 break-ins within two months. They did a lot of damage, including trashing the library, throwing books around and wrecking the card catalog.
The school was closed sometime after 1988, the year of the last available news article. In 1997, it was sold to a Masonic Lodge, which lost it in 2003. The charter school corporation purchased it in 2004, and established the Excelsior Charter School, which still operates today.
Above photo:Nicholas Strini for Property Shark