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The red brick building at 475 Nostrand Avenue is the oldest surviving structure in New York City that was built as a high school. The Girls' High School was constructed from 1885 to 1886 and was designed by James W. Naughton in a mixture of Victorian Gothic and French Second Empire styles. A large addition to the rear of the building dated to 1891 but has been demolished; another to the south was added in 1912. The building has become an adult education center. The Girls' High School building is considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and became a New York City Landmark in 1983. The building is part of Bedford Historic District, a National Park Service-certified local historic district.

2016 view of Girls' H. S. building (NYS CRIS)

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Girls' H.S. building in ca. 1983 photo (NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, in designation report)

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Girls' H.S. on 1888 Sanborn map (Vol. 5, p. 112)

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Girls' H.S. with former rear addition on 1908 Sanborn map (Vol. 5, p. 30)

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While the City of Brooklyn offered public elementary schools for many decades, public high schools were mentioned by the Board of Education as early as 1849 but weren't introduced until the 1880s. The system began in the late 1870s as part of a "central grammar school" where basic courses were taught more thoroughly; this was first housed at Court and Livingston Streets until the high school could be built. The Girls' High School was designed by Irish-born James W. Naughton (1840-1898), a trained architect and the Brooklyn Schools' Superintendent of Buildings. The institution was meant to be co-educational when it was designed, but the rapidly growing Brooklyn population would have filled the school beyond capacity. Plans were made to build another building as the boys' high school and keep the Nostrand Ave. building for girls only. The Girls' High School opened in 1886 with its original name as the Girls' Department of the Central Grammar School. The Boys' High School, four blocks away on Marcy Ave. north of Putnam Ave. (also a Clio entry and Naughton design), didn't open until 1892. The schools' names were changed in 1891 to Girls' High School and Boys' High School. Both schools served as prototypes for high schools built later in Manhattan.

The original part of the Girls' High school features a central towered entrance pavilion with a Corinthian portico and a balustrade balcony for the windows above; decorative tile plaques on the portico display the date. There are two projecting side pavilions topped with hipped, slate roofs with dormer windows. The three-and-a-half story building is faced in red brick with contrasting stone trim and a stone basement. A rear addition opened in 1891, nearly doubling the size of the school, containing 28 classrooms, a library, a lecture room, and an auditorium. This addition has since been demolished. An addition on the south side of the Girls' High School, built in 1912, is Collegiate Gothic style; it was designed by C.B.J. Snyder and executed in red brick with stone trim and tripartite pointed-arched windows on the first floor. The roof and dormer windows of the addition are similar to those of the original building; the addition contains two floors of classrooms below a gymnasium, which is below a running track.

In September 1895, the Brooklyn Board of Education discussed a resolution that those girls who were unable to gain admission to the Girls' High School could attend the Manual Training High School temporarily if they wanted to. Some board members were against the resolution, citing concerns for girls' safety in a building with so many boys and filled with machinery. The Girls' High School seating capacity was 2,038 while 2,225 pupils had applied. Instead, a resolution was passed that a committee be formed to report to the board on the overcrowding issue.

Girls' High School was even more severely overcrowded by the late 1930s with an enrollment of over 4,000. To accommodate, art and typing rooms were converted to regular classrooms, the school day was split into two sessions, and some classes met in an annex in Public School 75 on Evergreen St. The gymnasium was too small to fit class demand and some calisthenics classes were held in school hallways. Dr. Rowena Keith Keyes was the school's principal. The city acquired land on Bedford Avenue near Brooklyn College to build another high school.

After building renovations in the 1970s after the high school moved elsewhere, the vacant building soon became a Center for Adult Education, which continues to this day. Classes are offered in general education and English as a Second Language.

Anonymous. "New Midwood School Urged For Girls High." Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn) February 20th 1938. 19-19.

Anonymous. "To Use an Old School." Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn) September 20th 1895. 10-10.

Dillon, James. Landmark Designation Report LP-1246, Girls High School, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. June 28th 1983. Accessed January 27th 2022.

NYC Historic Districts Council. The Girls' High School, Six to Celebrate. Accessed January 22nd 2022.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

New York State Cultural Resource Information System (NYS CRIS):


Library of Congress (LOC):