One of the borough’s most historic houses has announced plans for a revamp. The Poppenhusen Institute will undergo an elevator installation in early 2015, according to Executive Director Susan Brustmann, and its façade will be restored the following spring or summer, depending on city funding. The elevator will make the College Point venue, which was built in 1868, more accessible to the general public and will facilitate events, such as weddings and film shoots, in the grand auditorium. The exterior work will restore windows, while saving as much of the original wood and glass as possible, and cover the brownstone with a protective sealant. Brustmann informed that the ability to hold events is imperative to the institute’s survival as it lost state funding a few years ago, while the façade work is necessary because the structure is constantly being smacked by salty winds, due to its location on a peninsula between Flushing Bay and the East River.
More information and more photos are on the jump page.
The four-story, Victorian style building’s original benefactor, Conrad Poppenhusen, was a true social reformer. The German immigrant funded the institute with the specific charter that it be used to improve individuals’ job skills and/or cultural awareness, regardless of their race, creed or religion. The edifice once housed a court, College Point Savings Bank’s first home, the area’s first library, a sheriff’s office (see two remaining jail cells below), and various German singing and social societies. The first free kindergarten in the United States opened there on July 1st, 1870. You can read more about the Poppenhusen legacy here, and more about the building architecture here.
Nowadays, the site is a multi-purpose community center with karate, music, art and drama lessons, as well as a summer concert series, 9/11 and Veterans Day remembrances and productions by The Phoenix Players, the resident theater company. Poppenhusen Institute became a city landmark in 1970 and joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Conrad Poppenhusen, who owned a rubber factory, also developed the nearby roadway that is currently called “College Point Boulevard.” The busy man founded the NorthSide Railroad, funded construction of the area’s first school, built housing for his workers, and provided them with health and death benefits.
The jail is still there.
HBO filmed scenes from its period drama Boardwalk Empire in the grand auditorium, which has 30-foot-high ceilings.
Photos: Poppenhusen Institute