Building of the Day: 375 Pearl Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Brooklyn Law School, now Brooklyn Friends School
Address: 375 Pearl Street
Cross Streets: Cul-de-sac north of Willoughby Street
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1928
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Architect: Thompson, Holmes & Converse
Other buildings by architect: In NYC – Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, Manhattan, original buildings: Lehman College, the Bronx.
Landmarked: No

The story:
Here’s a story of how several venerable Brooklyn institutions’ histories meet and intertwine. 375 Pearl Street was built for the Brooklyn Law School. The BLS has a long history, going back to Charles Pratt’s Pratt Institute and the Heffley School, stenography and secretarial school, founded by stenography pioneer, Norman Heffley. The school was founded under Pratt’s direction and was located next to the Pratt campus in Clinton Hill. In 1902, educator Norman Heffley and legal scholar William Payson Richardson applied for a charter to establish the Brooklyn Law School. The BLS was Brooklyn’s first law school, and opened on an upper floor in the Heffley School with twelve students. They soon outgrew their rooms there, and would move to Montague Street, then the Eagle Warehouse in DUMBO, where they remained until moving to this building in 1928, which was called Richardson Hall, after their co-founder and first president.

By the 1930’s, the BLS began to have evening classes, and their student body grew to over 1500 students. They were affiliated with St. Lawrence University, and gained accreditation in 1937. They bought out of St. Lawrence in the late ‘30’s and became independent in time to welcome returning vets from WWII. By 1968, they had outgrown this building, and moved the school to new facilities on Joralemon Street, where they still are growing.

Brooklyn Friends School was looking for a new home, having outgrown their buildings, as well. Founded in 1867 as a co-educational day school, BFS grew to be one of Brooklyn’s finest private schools, offering a fine education from kindergarten through high school to a diverse body of students, long before that was a popular or mandated thing to do. They moved from their landmarked meeting house and adjoining school on Schermerhorn Street in 1973. See this recent BOTD for more information.

The building at 375 Pearl Street is a handsome building on a dead end street that is unnoticed by most people who have no cause to go there. This Art Deco (mostly) 7 story building is limestone, and then brick, then limestone at the top, with great Romanesque Revival style arched windows with incised ornamental reliefs, supported by marble columns. The face of the building features ornamental tile sunburst patterns, some of which seem to be ventilation ducts. Very nice. The entryway with its deeply incised reliefs is the building’s most noticed features. These reliefs feature historic people who have contributed to modern law, and are extremely well done. GMAP

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