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Queens Chronicle

Old RHHS had its own observatory

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:30 am

Richmond Hill is one of the older communities in Queens, and got its own high school in 1899, when there were only a few in the borough.

The school was unusual in that it had an astronomy observatory and telescope, built at a cost of $6,000. The first principal was not an administrator but respected mathematician and astronomer Issac Newton Failor (1851-1925). The RHHS yearbook and newsletters were dubbed “The Dome.”

But by the 1920s, a larger school was needed. It was built in 1928, and the original was demolished, its location becoming an athletic field. The first principal to run the new school was lifelong Richmond Hill resident Matthew Dann (1879-1968). His older brother Roland Dann (1876-1974) was principal of Far Rockaway High School.

RHHS publications were still called “The Dome.” Some famous people who went to the 114th Street school were Jacob Cohen, stage name Rodney Dangerfield, Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto and Bob Turner, the Republican congressman who replaced Anthony Weiner.

By the last part of the 20th century the area had become so overcrowded that trailers were set up to accommodate all the students at RHHS, which was built for 1,800 but was serving 3,600. The city annexed the old St. Benedict Joseph Labre school on 117th Street to help. Meanwhile the school had only a 58 percent graduation rate, putting it on the Bloomberg administration’s chopping block. It planned to close the school and create a new one in the building called The 21st Century School of Richmond Hill, but the plan was denied in court, and RHHS lives on, though domeless.

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