In 1914, Friends School – as it was then called – was expanding at all levels, with its young high school program being one of them. Our athletic program had only just gotten off the ground and it was soon clear that the school needed athletic facilities to go further. Our second athletic director, Mr. Guy C. Carr, was also a co-head of the high school program and taught mathematics. The school, then located on Schermerhorn, did have play-yards on either side of the school buildings – one for girls and one for boys and, in later years, one for older students and one for younger – but its true gymnasium would not be built until 1917. On top of that, “outdoor” education was the height of fashion: BFS built outdoor classrooms on the roof of the Schermerhorn school building. Even more, the public playground movement had hit Brooklyn, and, in 1908, there were only five public playgrounds in all of Brooklyn.
To meet the school’s need, in 1916 apparently, the school rented a small plot of land at the foot of Grace Court, near Furman Street. However, it was decided that the BFS playground could help meet the needs of the public as well.
With funds provided by the Mother’s Club (the original parent-teacher organization at BFS), the school staffed the playground with a nurse and two teachers who supervised and taught “play,” and the Grace Court playground was open to the public when not used by the school, including during summers. The Mother’s Club ensured that hired staff members were there for Brooklyn’s children, not just for their own. This was an important early moment in what we now call “community service” at BFS – recognizing and filling needs for the larger community.
The photo above presents a time conflict with the Grace Court playground. Morris Bacon Jackson, BFS Class of 1915, wears a shirt with “1915” clearly printed while there is an “F” for Friends School on the shirts of the older students. It is possible that Morris returned to BFS as an alum and happened to be in this photo. Using school catalogs and a few other sources, all data indicates BFS first rented this property in 1916.
There are a few photos of the Friends School playground at Grace Court. From news articles from the era, it is clear that the building behind our athletes is the Packer Mansion which once stood at 1 Grace Court. Nearby, at 2 Grace Court, was the Prentice Mansion. Both Prentice and Packer were founding trustees of Packer Collegiate Institute. Of course, this area of Brooklyn Heights was razed for the large apartment buildings on Grace Court today, which were built in the 1920s. We are grateful to fultonhistory.com for the full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a great resource for this post.
Above, from the Friends School catalog for 1917-1918
Above, from the Friends School catalog for 1920-1921.