BAY RIDGE — When God closes one door, he opens another. It’s a popular old saying that has special meaning at Fontbonne Hall Academy, where the closing of one doorway and the opening of another is part of a major facelift for the school.
Fontbonne Hall, an all-girls high school sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph, which opened in Bay Ridge 1937, is undergoing renovations that includes moving its main entrance.
While the school’s address is 9901 Shore Road, that has not been the main entry point into the school up to now. Instead, students and faculty have entered and exited on the 99th Street side of the building.
Moving the entrance makes perfect sense, said Sister Maria Pascuzzi, CSJ, councilor for the Sisters of St. Joseph. “When people go by, they don’t see any action at 9901 Shore Road because everybody is used to entering at 99th Street,” she explained.
Sister Maria, who serves as the Sisters of St. Joseph’s liaison to Fontbonne, came to live on the Bay Ridge campus two years ago.
“I just thought, Shore Road is beautiful. It overlooks the Verrazano (Bridge) and the Narrows. Why aren’t we creating a beautiful space so that we have a welcoming front entrance?” she recalled.
The Shore Road entrance will now feature glass doors that are replacing the blue doors currently there. In addition, two storefront-sized windows will be installed, “to give the entrance more of an open look,” Sister Maria said
“It will be like a grand entrance with a spacious front lawn,” she added.
The larger project also includes the installation of a new roof. Sister Maria estimated that the price tag is likely to be more than $1 million.
While Fontbonne Hall Academy came into existence in 1937, the building’s origins date back decades earlier. It was built as a villa in the late 19th century by Diamond Jim Brady (1856-1917), the Gilded Age financier.
Fontbonne legend has it that Brady had the villa built for his paramour, actress Lillian Russell (1861-1922).
In researching the school’s history, Sister Maria came across archival notes written in 1937 that gave her a chuckle.
It seems a group of Sisters of St. Joseph arrived to inspect the property shortly after the religious order purchased it and found that the building had once housed a nightclub.
One area where the sisters intended to set up a classroom had been the nightclub’s barroom. While the beer taps were gone, the wallpaper was a dead giveaway to the room’s past. It featured illustrations of wine glasses, cigarettes, and dice.
“The sisters had the wallpaper taken down,” Sister Maria said.