Building of the Day: P.S. 124, the Silas B. Dutcher School at 515 4th Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Last week we featured some of the great C.B.J. Snyder’s Brooklyn schools. There are a lot of them, and here’s one more great addition to the Brooklyn streetscape.

Name: Public School 124, Silas B. Dutcher School
Address: 515 4th Avenue
Cross Streets: 13th and 14th Street
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1899-1900
Architectural Style: Beaux-Arts
Landmarked: No

This beautiful Beaux-Arts-style elementary school is just one many built by C.B.J. Snyder, the Supervisor of School Buildings for the City of New York. It one of his earliest Brooklyn schools, planned a year after Brooklyn became part of Greater New York City in 1898.

As we posted last week, Snyder revolutionized school building with his H-shaped schools. This is not one of them; instead it’s a massive old-style rectangular school, built on a block-wide lot with lots of room around it for maximum use of windows on all four sides.

Snyder was well aware of the impact a handsome, well-built school had on a community. The 1893 Chicago World’s Exhibition had introduced the nation to the Beaux-Arts style — an ornate, classically inspired French Baroque style that lent itself well to public buildings of all kinds.

This building is a prime example. Snyder built with light grey bricks and limestone, a symmetrical building with an impressive entryway that originally had a sweeping front stairway. Heavy brackets support a second-floor balcony, which in turn support four massive columns with ornate Corinthian capitals.

The detailed oval windows, the pediments and cartouches below them, and the numerous swags and cartouches elsewhere on the façade — très Beaux-arts!

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

1931 photo via Brooklyn Eagle

Who was Silas B. Dutcher?

The school was named for Silas B. Dutcher, one of Brooklyn’s most influential mid-19th-century movers and shakers. This used to be his land, and the school is actually built on the site of his house. A very grainy photograph of the house appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle on September 23, 1931.

Dutcher, born in 1829, came from old Dutch stock in upstate New York. He was a schoolteacher at one point and came to NYC in 1850. He was a very successful merchant and local politician.

He was one of the founding members of the new Republican Party in New York State. He soon became president of the Kings County Republican Committee. After the Civil War he was appointed Supervisor of Internal Revenue, the city’s tax collector, a position he held from 1868-82.

From 1870-77, Dutcher and two other men — former General James Jourdan, the city police commissioner, and former General Benjamin Franklin Tracy, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District — were known as the “Three Graces.” They had firm control on everything that went on in Brooklyn and together were far more powerful than the mayor of the city.

After retiring from government, Silas Dutcher went into banking; he became a charter trustee in the Union Dime Savings Bank of New York, and then its president in 1885.

In 1891, he was made president of the Hamilton Trust Company of Brooklyn, an office he held until his death in 1909. He was also the director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York, the director of the Garfield Safe Deposit Company, the German-American Real Estate Title Guarantee Company, and the Kings County Electric Light and Power Company.

Dutcher lived in a large mansion in Crown Heights, where he died of a stroke on his 50th wedding anniversary, in 1909 at age 80. The large gala his family had planned for the evening sadly became a wake.

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

Silas B. Dutcher photo via Wikipedia Commons

Dutcher’s Legacy

Silas Dutcher taught school upstate between the ages of 14 and 22. During his later years in Brooklyn, he became a member of the Board of Education. Although the board’s interests were vast, he always paid particular attention to Public School 40, which was around the corner from his house, on 16th Street between 3rd and 4th avenues.

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

1901 photo via Brooklyn Public Library

This school was built in part to alleviate crowding at P.S. 40. The South Slope was a fast-growing neighborhood by the end of the century, with workers and their families moving to the neighborhood for jobs at Bush Terminal and nearby factories.

Today, 100-plus years later, the school has an active PTA and strong community support, assuring that Silas Dutcher’s namesake continues to shape scholars for the future.

A recent removal of the flooring in the school’s vestibule uncovered the original mosaic floor. It’s now been restored and cleaned and once more greets students and teachers entering the school.

Thanks to Brownstoner reader Thom Widmann for suggesting this school as a BOTD, and supplying the mosaic and period photos. If you have a tip for Brownstoner, send it to laura [at] brownstoner [dot] com.

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

Undated photo via P.S. 124 PTA

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

Photo via Board of Education

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