Poppenhusen Institute represents not only post-Civil War architecture in New York, but also the amazing power of a single individual. Or two.
A modest brick and brownstone building, the Institute is five stories high including its mansard roof. Round-arched windows and strong horizontal bands mark it as Italianate style, while the mansard roof crowns the building in French Second Empire.
Conrad Poppenhusen, a German immigrant, became wealthy in the 1800s manufacturing whalebone products: combs, corset stays, etc. In 1852 he switched from whalebone to the just-invented Goodyear-process hard rubber. Poppenhusen’s factory was in what is now College Point, and he was dedicated to the welfare of his community. So dedicated that in 1868 he gave $100,000 to build the Institute, and in 1871 another $100,000 endowment to maintain the building and its work. That work included the country’s first free kindergarten (a German invention, after all), free vocational classes for adults, library, and civic center.
The generous endowment couldn’t last forever. By 1980 the Institute’s Board of Control, after selling art works and other assets, decided to sell the building. Enter Susan Brustmann, who proved to be just as dedicated as Conrad Poppenhusen to continuing the Institute. She organized a grass-roots fight to save and restore the Institute and to this day continues to fight for financial support – NY State assistance ended in 2008. (See Christopher Gray’s Streetscapes column. See the Queens Tribune story for an update.)
The Poppenhusen Institute continues to offer community services, exhibits, classes and events; the Institute is open weekdays – check the website for details. The Institute is close to Flushing’s historic sites and Chinatown (there’s frequent Q65 bus service to/from Main Street).
Poppenhusen Institute Vital Statistics
- Location: 114-04 14th Road at 114th Street
- Year completed: 1870
- Architect: Mundell & Teckritz
- Floors: 5
- Style: Italianate with French Second Empire
- New York City Landmark: 1970
- National Register of Historic Places: 1977
Poppenhusen Institute Recommended Reading
- Wikipedia entry
- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
- The New York Times Streetscapes/The Poppenhusen Institute in College Point; 1870 Community Center for a Queens Neighborhood (October 31, 1999)
- Poppenhusen Institute website
- Forgotten New York blog
- Queens Tribune Poppenhusen Institute: A City Landmark Serving The Borough (March 27, 2014)
- Brownstoner Queens: A Look Inside the Poppenhusen Institute of College Point (July 16, 2013)