Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Brief Visit to Erasmus Hall

Gothic stone ramparts, shot looking up toward the sky
One final post from my Brooklyn trip.

Knowing I would be in Flatbush, I did a little research to see what might be off the beaten path, and found out that Erasmus Hall high school is on the north end of the neighborhood.

I had heard of Erasmus back in the dim reaches of my teenage years, because Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond both went to school there, and my trivia-retaining brain had squirreled that fact away.

So on Sunday morning, I took the Q train, then walked a few blocks over to Flatbush Avenue, past vendors selling guavas and yams, asking directions from ladies in their church hats.

I can't say I got a great look at it, because there was construction with scaffolding all around the street level, and a homeless man was camped right in front of the only door that would have given a view of the inner courtyard.

Black and white photo through a darkened archway, courtyard with statue and colonial-style building in background
If I could have seen the courtyard, this is kind of how it would appear (although from the looks of that car bumper along the right side, this photo is at least 50 years old).

Oh, well, I guess that's what off the beaten path means. No guides or tourism officials to sanitize things before the visitors arrive.

Colorized postcard rendering of large gothic high school building, Erasmus Hall 1910
It's the oldest high school in New York, in continuous operation since 1787. The collegiate gothic facade was built in the early 1900s, and encloses a number of other buildings, including the original 1787 academy (visible in the courtyard shot above). This postcard image is from 1910, shortly after the current facade was built.

Note the green grass in front of the entrance. There's not much of that in evidence today, if it ever was really that way at all--in fact there are commercial buildings right up to the sides of it, so it's just another part of a city block. That surprised me the most, I think.

Current photo of part of the facade
Famous Erasmus alumni, courtesy of the Wikipedia:

Joe Barbera 1928
Neil Diamond, 1954-1956
Bobby Fischer (dropped out, 1960)
Barbara McClintock 1919
Beverly Sills (attended 1940s)
Robert Silverberg 1952 (a favorite science fiction writer of mine from my teen years)
Mickey Spillane 1936
Barbara Stanwyck 1925
Barbra Streisand 1959
Norma Talmadge 1911
Eli Wallach 1932
Mae West 1893(see comments to explain this deletion)

Red-painted doors with metal details as are found on church doors
Finally, a pair of ecclesiastical doors near the northeast corner of the school along Flatbush Avenue.


Vivian said...

Thanks very much for the nostalgic pictures. For some recollections of Erasmus Hall, visit www.drmetablog.com, category Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Mae West NYC said...

MAE WEST never attended high school. Mae admits this in her own autobiography. Why not take Mae's word for it?

Most people who write for Wikipedia merely copy misleading junk from other places . . . instead of opening up a (wow!) book. Come up sometime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . http://MaeWest.blogspot.com

Paul said...

This is late in history...4 years after the original post, but you might be interested to know that the postcard image is a pre-Photoshop Photoshop job! The facade shown is actually the eastern one, facing in toward the quadrangle (note the chapel/auditorium at the left, which cannot be seen from Flatbush Avenue).

Postcard publishers of that era often removed, added, colored and otherwise altered photographs; in this case they completely removed the Academy building, which would have blocked most of this view!