Building of the Day: 330-334 Ellery Street — A School Becomes Home for Bushwick Artists

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    Brooklyn, one building at a time.

    This 1883 schoolhouse, one of hundreds designed by Brooklyn school architect James W. Naughton, has been repurposed as space for artists and performers.

    Name: Former Public School 52, now “The Schoolhouse”
    Address: 330-334 Ellery Street
    Cross Streets: Broadway and Beaver Street
    Neighborhood: Bushwick
    Year Built: 1883
    Architectural Style: Late Italianate with some High Victorian Gothic detailing
    Architect: James W. Naughton
    Other Works by Architect: Many other school buildings in Brooklyn, including PS 9 Annex in Prospect Heights, Girls High School and Boys High School, both in Bedford Stuyvesant, and PS 107 in Park Slope
    Landmarked: No

    School Architecture in the City of Brooklyn
    Bushwick’s first school was built in 1662. That one was augmented in 1815 by the building of Bushwick District School 2, on Stanwix and Noll streets. Bushwick was still an independent town back then.

    In 1855, Bushwick became part of the city of Brooklyn, and the school’s designation was changed to Public School 24. By the 1880s, Brooklyn’s Board of Education had changed greatly in just 30 years.

    There were new ideas about educating students and a new Superintendent of Buildings, James W. Naughton, was settling in after replacing Samuel B. Leonard, the last holder of that job.

    A Good Building Can Help Make a Good School
    James Naughton, an Irish Immigrant who studied architecture at Cooper Union, was one of many educators who realized that the school building itself could be an aid to good education.

    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, 1931 photo, NYPL

    1931 photo via New York Public Library

    Proper ventilation, lots of windows and light, airy classrooms with tall ceilings, ample stairwells and plenty of bathrooms were not just nice to have, they were necessary.

    Naughton held his position from 1878 until 1898, when he died. During those twenty years, he was responsible for the design and building of over 100 different school buildings in the city of Brooklyn. Today, only about a third of them survive as schools, with a few more scattered around, like this one, now used for another purpose.

    While his Boys High School in Bedford Stuyvesant, built in 1891, is his masterpiece, all of his surviving school buildings are good, and utilize his ideas of space and light.

    This school was built towards the beginning of his career, and resembles many of the other schools he designed during this early period. The most famous expression of this late Italianate style, with High Victorian Gothic detailing would be his Girls High School, on Nostrand Avenue, built in 1885.

    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, 1904 map, NYPL

    1904 map, New York Public Library

    Later History of P.S. 52
    As was the case with all of NYC’s schools, PS 52 was soon overcrowded, and additions were added.The map shows the school in 1904.

    The school served Bushwick’s kids from 1883 until 1945. At that point, the city and the Board of Education sold the structure for $27,050.00 to a company that used it as manufacturing space.

    The factory just moved their stuff in; changing only what was needed, leaving much of the school building as it had been.

    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, SSpellen 3

    In 1981, the State of New York came in and removed the interior of one of the third floor classrooms, and rebuilt in at the New York State Museum in Albany. It’s there today, a frozen time capsule of a Brooklyn elementary school classroom in the 1920s.
    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, SSpellen 4

    Art and Performance Space
    In 1996, an artist named Erin McGonigle and her friends found a rental listing for the building in the Village Voice.  They immediately rented it, and took several months just cleaning it up enough to stay in.

    They called the old school ORT, the German word for “site,” which became the acronym for “Organizing Resources Together.” They occupied the first floor only at this time, and began a live/work artist’s collective.

    In 2002, the second floor opened up for artists, and today, all three floors are occupied by artists and performers. The space has become famous in the Bushwick indie art and music world as a place for art shows, performances and other events.

    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, SSpellen 5

    There are over 20 artists/performers living and working here now, including photographers, visual artists, musicians, DJ’s, fashion designers, screen printers, jewelry designers and more.

    The building is called The Schoolhouse, aka the Old Schoolhouse, and sometimes, the Old Red Schoolhouse. Its residents have programs and community events like an annual block party, designed to bring the neighbors together and build community bonds.

    All photographs by Suzanne Spellen

    330-334 Ellery St. PS 52, SSpellen 2

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