by Michael R. Allen
The Irving School at 3829 North 25th Street, named for popular 19th century writer Washington Irving, has stood at the western end of the Hyde Park neighborhood for 134 years. Opening in 1871, the school was the St. Louis Public School District’s second school (Clay School, also located in Hyde Park, being the first). Originally, this elementary school had a staff of six teachers including one who spoke German for teaching the many neighborhood children who did not yet speak English. The presence of the German-speaking teacher was a conscious effort to get the many German families in this neighborhood integrated into “mainstream” civic life. This was no easy feat — after all, Hyde Park was originally laid out only a few years earlier, in 1844, as the town of Bremen and remained heavily populated by Germans.
Not surprising is the fact that the architect for the main building of Irving School was German-born Frederick W. Raeder, then serving as the District’s first official architect. Raeder was a recent transplant, too, having arrived in town in 1867 from Germany. His design, a plain yet stately red-brick original Italianate building, has a striking unique feature: each of the twelve classrooms was located at a corner. This move to ensure that ample light reached the classrooms led to the three-story height and the many large windows.
As part of his work with the District, Raeder later designed Gratiot School as well as Des Peres School, site of the nation’s first kindergarten. The two-story Des Peres school building, completed in 1873, is still extant in Carondelet, and bears some resemblance to Irving. Gratiot School, located near the intersection of Hampton and Manchester avenues, housed the district’s archives for many years until it was closed and sold during the 2003 round of school cutbacks. It still stands.
Irving School was expanded in 1891 and 1894. A three-story addition built on the west side of the original Irving building is almost indistinguishable in material and style from its parent structure. The kindergarten building, which added eight rooms to the building, adds a gentle stylistic difference to the complex. With a rusticated stone water table, catalog-ordered ornamental brick and arched windows, this addition is a modest Romanesque Revival endeavor that harmonizes with the older building.
Irving School still in use, 1978. (Source: Landmarks Association of St. Louis Collection.)
In 1994, the District closed Irving School. The District placed the complex up for sale in 2003, but has yet to accept any offer.