Word came this week that my alma mater, St. Francis College, which I attended from 1975-1980, will be moving out of its longtime home at #180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, and will be occupying three floors of the Wheeler Building on Fulton and Bridge Streets (with an entrance at #118 Livingston), which is actually an addition plopped on top of the Art Deco building constructed for Abraham & Straus (now, of course, Macy’s) in the 1930s. Actually SFC and A&S share a characteristic: they’re not one building, but an amalgamation of different buildings. One of the Remsen Street buildings is no younger than 16 years old, as seen on this Forgotten NY page on SFC and vicinity from 2012.
St. Francis is still in Brooklyn Heights, which contains some of the crown jewels of Brooklyn and NYC architecture. The Super 70s, though, were a long time before I started looking around NYC’s nooks and crannies for hidden gems. Sorry to say, I didn’t go on very many spelunking expeditions during lunch hour. After I graduated, I had a girlfriend still attending SFC and in 1982, she gave me a book for my birthday: Clay Lancaster’s “Old Brooklyn Heights: Brooklyn’s First Suburb”, first written in the early 60s and considered a major work of its genre. So, by 1982, things were beginning to coalesce a bit and I was beginning to show interest in chronicling the city in which I live. It would still be a good 16 years, and the popularization of the internet, before I began to do anything about it.
St. Francis College was founded as St. Francis Academy, a school for Irish immigrant boys, in 1859 at the direction of Bishop John Loughlin (for whom Rudy Giuliani’s high school, Bishop Loughlin in Fort Greene is named). The first school was located on Baltic Street in Cobble Hill. It became a college in the early 1880s, while continuing as a secondary school; the two were sundered in 1902 and today’s St. Francis Prep, which moved to Williamsburg in 1953 and then Fresh Meadows in 1974, is a completely different entity from the College.
In 1960 the College began to purchase buildings belonging to Brooklyn Union Gas (the descendant of which is National Grid as of 2012) and also to tear down older structures and construct new facilities, such as the main building, in 1968. When I attended SFC, we referred to the ‘old building’ and the ‘new building’ of which this was the latter.
The new facility, opening in mid-2022, is described as having less overall square feet of space, and will lack a gymnasium or pool; supposedly, SFC will have to rent those facilities from other schools. SFC fields an NCAA Division I basketball team, which has never made the postseason “big dance.” Its swim, volleyball and handball teams have fared better, but they’ll have to find somewhere to play.
What will happen to the various buildings of #180 Remsen? My guess is they’ll be sacrificed for a “supertall.”
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