Peek Inside a Converted Schoolhouse With a Storied Past in Prospect Heights

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It’s School Week here on Brownstoner. Stay tuned for more school-themed posts celebrating the start of the school year.

The old P.S. 9 Annex in Prospect Heights is one of those buildings that everyone stops in front of and wonders, “What exactly is it and how can I live there?” I did the same thing before I moved in, and I’m still learning about the genesis of the building.

Living in a converted schoolhouse with a mysterious history could not be a better fit for me. As the author of a series of historical novels, I draw a lot of writing inspiration from my apartment building. Rumor has it that silent-film star and original It Girl Clara Bow went to school here back in the day.

Just walking into the building, with its tall, imposing iron gates, wide stairwells and carpeted corridors makes me feel simultaneously like I’m stepping back in time and as though I’m reliving my middle school years.

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

Uncovering the history of P.S. 9 from my neighbors has been fascinating. From what I’ve heard, when the building was renovated in 1989, P.S. 9 was in deplorable condition and had been abandoned for a number of years. It was completely uninhabitable, the home of squatters and pigeons. (Brownstoner’s Montrose Morris also wrote about P.S. 9’s history back in 2010.)

The original shareholders here had been forced out of their lofts by the MetroTech development and “relocated” to the building by means of a settlement of a lawsuit that S.T.A.N.D. (Stand Together Against Neighborhood Destruction) had brought against Forest City Ratner and the City of New York. Luckily they were able to see past the crack vials and needles, warped floors, crater-sized holes in the roof, and three-foot-high piles of pigeon dung. The building had incredible potential.

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

The building being renovated in 1989

After a total gut renovation — including electricity and heating systems, all-new plumbing, and the installation of thermal windows and maple floors — the building is now one of the most beautiful and unusual properties in Brooklyn.

Three years ago, I moved into my apartment, which was previously owned by an architect — a brilliant stroke of luck. The attention to detail on her end was amazing: The sliding barn door-inspired closet doors, chalkboard kitchen wall, subway tile and custom staircase to the lofted bedroom felt like choices I would have made, had I been given the budget and opportunity.

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

My updates were mostly cosmetic and very minimal: a fresh coat of light gray paint with white trim and removal of some built-ins. (There was a wall that was literally a cat playground with different ledges and carpeted perches. I love my cat, but…).

Some of the more quirky details — like the humongous, brightly painted yellow and black knobs on the kitchen drawers — have grown on me. (And, in typical New York City style, the drawers double as my clothing storage.)

I have yet to see all of the apartments in the building, but based on the units I’ve visited, each has its own unique flavor and all have tall cathedral ceilings and classroom windows. The first question everyone asks when they visit is, “Who lives in the gym and cafeteria?” I still don’t know, but I want that apartment.

Building of the Day: 251 Sterling Place [Brownstoner]
Walkabout: A Guide to James W. Naughton, Master of Brooklyn School Architecture [Brownstoner]
279 Sterling Place Coverage [Brownstoner]
Current photos by Hannah Frishberg; 1989 construction photos via Bianca Turetsky

Bianca Turetsky is the author of the acclaimed tween series The Time-Traveling Fashionista, which has been translated into nine languages. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or at her website.

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

The building being renovated in 1989

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

The building being renovated in 1989

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