Often we get a chance to work on a gem of Architecture and NYC history. One such gem is the Poppenhausen Institute in College Point, Queens. The building was commissioned by Conrad Poppenhausen, a manufacturing tycoon and philanthropist. One of the building’s distinctions is that it held the first free kindergarten in the entire country in 1870. The spirit of the institute was to educate and train people, regardless of creed, color or gender.
The structure was Landmarked in the 1970’s, but faced possible demolition in the 1980’s. Locals and community leaders successfully prevented its destruction and it now still stands, albeit in need of restoration, still serving the community, holding classes and providing performances.
There are still remnants of the furniture used by students from over 100 years ago in some rooms!
In the cellar there are still two jail cells. These were used by the sherif, also in the building, mainly to hold the inebriated ‘guests’ roaming the streets after hours spent frequenting the many breweries of College Point in the early part of the twentieth century.
The main hall has beautiful detailing that is brought out by all the light filtering in from the south through the exceptionally tall wood windows.
We are working with city agencies and the board of the institute to specify a program of repairs at the exterior that may include replacement of all the windows, some of which are nearly twenty feet tall, double-hung units. The windows are wood units that are in varying states of decay. They are also all single glazed units. We hope to replace them with wood window units that replicate the appearance of the originals, but provides the users of the space better climate control and a more comfortable learning and entertaining environment.
Working on historic structures and preserving them, while sometimes also modernizing components that can be improved, such as windows, is like taking care of a precious heirloom passed down through generations through the family… like grandma’s knit sweater.
It’s an honor and a joy to be able to do this. The Poppenhausen Institute has always known this.. and for more than a hundred years, they have allowed the professionals that have helped preserve, restore, fix, protect, and revitalize the building to leave their mark in the spacious attic of the building. There are signatures scratched into the attic wall that date back to 1902, and some as recent as last year. There are some names that we recognize on the wall, of consultants we have worked with.
Soon, with honor, we hope to inscribe CTA Architects onto this wall.
by Shukri Sindi