Poppenhusen Institute: A City Landmark Serving The Borough

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

When it comes to community establishments in Queens, there are few as long-lasting or as influential as the Poppenhusen Institute.

The Poppenhusen Institute was constructed 146 years ago, in 1868, with funds donated by Conrad Poppenhusen, the benefactor and founder of College Point. The original charter of the institute said that it should give people the opportunity to improve their lives.

The Poppenhusen Institute in College Point has offered educational and entertaining programs for nearly 150 years. Photo by Joe Marvilli

The Poppenhusen Institute in College Point has offered educational and entertaining programs for nearly 150 years. Photo by Joe Marvilli

The institute was established for vocational training and served to advance Poppenhusen’s interest in providing educational opportunities for industrial workers.

“He became a rich man but was not born rich. He believed in passing on his wealth and helping others,” executive director Susan Brustmann said. “He believed in education.”

That belief in education led to Poppenhusen establishing the first free kindergarten program in the country at the institute. The concept, originally from Germany, was brought to America with the first classes taking place on July 1, 1870.

Due to its history and its Victorian style architecture, the Institute became a City landmark in 1970 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Despite this designation, Poppenhusen was threatened with sale and demolition in 1980. Due to the work of its volunteers, the community group and a Supreme Court case, this action was prevented.

“That was the beginning of many good things to come,” Brustmann said. “It was nice to know that when you believe in something and you work at it, it can come to pass.”

According to Brustmann, the building originally survived due to the importance of the services it provided the neighborhood. Now, more than a century later, its services remain an essential part, but it is also renowned for its historical significance. The work the institute does continually changes over time to match the needs of the community.

Those programs include lectures, workshops for kids, stress workshops, summer concerts, historic exhibits, tours, 12-step meetings and E. Phoenix Idealis, the resident theatre company. While the troupe was originally commissioned to perform, they eventually became partners of Poppenhusen.

“They are a dedicated group of individuals,” Brustmann said. “We’re very proud to have them as part of the institute.”

Despite its long-serving role in the community, Poppenhusen has been struggling financially as of late. In 2008, the institute lost all of its State funding. With 40 percent of their funding gone, the center’s staff and volunteers have worked to find new fundraising opportunities, such as an auction held last June and a haunted house during Halloween.

Poppenhusen also got a boost last year when it was voted as the top pick for Council District 19’s participatory budgeting practice. The structural restoration won 52.48 percent of the vote, meaning that $250,000 of discretionary funds went towards its upgrades.

In spite of these recent hardships, Poppenhusen is still moving forward to serve its community the best it can.

Those who would like to donate can do so by using PayPal on its website, http://poppenhuseninstitute.org, or by sending a check to P.O. Box 91, College Point, NY.

“It is our goal to be around another 150 years,” Brustmann said.

The Poppenhusen Institute can be found at 114-04 14th Road, College Point. To learn more about its programs, call (718) 358-0067.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.