St. Bernard’s building at 4 East 98th Street is 100 years old. To honor and celebrate the building’s hundredth birthday in 2015, eighth grade teacher Robin Clements and Janine St. Germain, our school archivist, gathered some gems from our archives to share.
Many years ago, when a dirt road (“Eastern Post Road”) ran right through the site of the corner deli, there were not many buildings near the location where our school now stands. The area consisted mostly of farmland and railroad tracks. In those days, there was a farm located on our block of 98th Street between Madison and Fifth avenues, and, from the look of it, not an awfully prosperous one.
In 1904, when the school was founded, it was housed at 570 Fifth Avenue. In 1910, the school moved to 111 East 60th Street. In 1915, the architects William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich, of Delano & Aldrich, designed and built St. Bernard’s School at 4 East 98th Street. Most buildings designed by Delano & Aldrich combined brick with limestone and marble trim. Examples of other buildings in New York that were designed by Delano & Aldrich include the Knickerbocker Club, the Colony Club, the Greenwich House, and the Willard D. Straight House at 1130 Fifth Avenue.
After inspecting the original blueprints for our school building, Mr. Clements noticed some striking details. The first school gym originally had skylights. The fourth floor did not contain classrooms; it provided housing accommodations for the masters of the school. The architectural plans also show a partial fifth floor, which provided housing for servants. The plans for the basement included a wine room and a large area that was unexcavated. Upon further investigation, Mr. Clements discovered that our school sits atop a large outcrop of schist, similar to the kind found throughout Central Park.
Our building has a special cartouche above the front entry, on which St. Bernard’s school shield is proudly displayed. There is another cartouche on the newer wing of the school building, which was added circa 1920 as an addition for the Junior School and masters’ residences. One mystery that remains regarding the cartouche over the main entrance is the rendering of the lion, which stands upon a serpent. No other rendering of the school shield in the archives illustrates this serpent, including the original Delano & Aldrich plans.
In 1971 the playground area behind the school was transformed into an indoor gym with the outdoor deck built on top. The large structural beams are still visible in the exposed ceiling of our medium gym. One of Mr. Clements’ favorite newly-discovered spaces is an alleyway between the medium gym and grade I classrooms.
Further expansions took place in 1987 and 1997, when we added three and one-half floors on top of the existing building and made major renovations to the interior.
Mr. Clements thoroughly searched the building to find what is still visible today of the 1915 building. The front entryway and cartouche on the facade of the building were first built in 1915 and are both still visible today. The room that was once called classroom number three is now Mr. Johnson’s office. The tile flooring on the second and fourth floors are original to the 1915 building, as are the fireplace in V Clavel and the caps on the newel posts in the central stairwell through the fourth floor. Many of the original doors and doorknobs were visible until recently. One of the original doorknobs is currently in the safe-keeping of Mr. Demeny, who asked to save one during a renovation.
Mr. Clements presented his discoveries to the school during a Friday assembly. The boys thoroughly enjoyed learning about our building and sang a heartfelt happy birthday to Mr. Clements, who coincidentally celebrated his birthday on the day of his presentation. Many thanks to Mr. Clements and Ms. St. Germain for uncovering and sharing the rich history of our building.