Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

Landmarks Association Stands Up for Historic SLPS Schools

by Michael R. Allen

Landmarks Association of St. Louis has published a position statement on the proposed St. Louis Public Schools facilities plan. Read the full text here.

The statement includes useful background information on the $200 million Capital Improvement Program that SLPS implemented from 1989 through 1991 in order to modernize buildings and abate lead and asbestos. The statement ends with wise and strong recommendations for protecting historic school buildings, reprinted here:

Historic Preservation

1. That District not demolish any school identified as historically or architecturally significant in the 1988 schools survey;

2. That the District place all eligible schools in the National Register of Historic Places to recognize their significance and to ensure demolition review under municipal ordinance;

3. That the District make all changes or additions to buildings (especially those included in the 1988 schools survey) respectful of defining architectural features and landscaped settings;

4. That the District obtain detailed bids from qualified contractors and architects with historic renovation work experience when evaluating the cost of retaining existing buildings, to avoid the assumption that renovating historic schools necessarily costs more than building new schools;

5. That the District consult with design professionals experienced in historic renovation work when making plans to renovate any existing schools included in the 1988 survey;

6. That the District develop, in concert with preservation consultants, a realistic maintenance plan for all the historic school buildings and incorporate them into a capital funding plan with rigorous follow through.

School Closures

1. That the District consider leasing schools to public or private entities as an alternative to sale;

2. That the District include in all sales contracts a clause forbidding demolition of schools included in the 1988 survey;

3. That the District reverse its policy of forbidding sales to charter schools or other educational entities, since such sale is preferable to abandonment or demolition;

4. That the District make every attempt to sell or lease buildings and avoid mothballing buildings, for the sake of neighborhood stabilization;

5. That the District properly secure and monitor any historic school closed but retained for future use.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

SLPS Facilities Management Meetings Will Determine Future of a Proud Legacy

by Michael R. Allen

My latest KWMU commentary is online here.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

Consultants Recommend Closure of 29 City Schools

by Michael R. Allen

At tonight’s meeting of the St. Louis Public Schools’ (SLPS) Special Administrative Board (SAB), consultants presented a proposed Facilities Management Plan that calls for closing 29 schools. Speaking to a packed house at the Vashon High School auditorium, consultants from MGT of America summarized the findings of a Comprehensive Facilities Review as well as their recommendations for six phases of closures of, moves between and major renovation work at schools. The biggest — and possibly only — relief was that none of the city’s four high schools will close.

The full text of the report is online here.

Here is the list of 18 outright closures recommended in phase one:

Ashland Branch
Clark (included in National Register Historic District)
Des Peres
Mark Twain
Nottingham (CAJT)
Shepard (included in National Register Historic District)
Turner (listed in National Register of Historic Places)
Meda P. Washington

In phase three, the following schools would be closed:
Ames (included in National Register Historic District)
Cote Brilliante
Mann (listed in National Register of Historic Places)
Shenandoah (included in National Register Historic District)
Simmons (listed in National Register of Historic Places)

These closures include one of the most troubling parts of the plan: recommendation of new elementary schools to replace clusters of three historic schools each on the north (Cote Brilliante, Hickey, Simmons) and south (Mann, Shenadoah, Shepard) sides. Shaw and Ames would combine in the present Blewett Middle School.

In phase four, the Northwest Law Academy building, an unmemorable edifice, would close. Gateway IT would follow in phase five. Furthermore, no currently closed schools — inlcuding Cleveland High School — would reopen.

Most of the schools on the closure list are historic buildings designed by school architects William B. Ittner and Rockwell Milligan.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

SLPS Facilities Management Plan Presented on Thursday

The Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools will hear recommendations by MGT of America, Inc. on the future use of district schools during the board meeting on Thursday, January 29, 6:00 p.m., at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Ave.

All community members are invited to attend this open meeting to hear this much-anticipated report firsthand. However, due to the anticipated length of the MGT presentation, there will be no public comments taken at this meeting.

The District will hold two special community forums for public comments – Wednesday, February 4, from 6:00p.m. – 8:00p.m. at Roosevelt High School, 3230 Hartford St., and Saturday February 7, from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Ave.

Public comments may also be submitted via the Internet starting Friday, January 30, by visiting The District will accept comments on the MGT presentation via the Internet through February 8.

For more information, please call 314-345-2367.

Clayton Historic Preservation Schools St. Louis County

Former Christian Brothers High School Threatened

by Michael R. Allen

The Post-Dispatch reports that the former Christian Brothers High School on Clayton Road is threatened with demolition.

Adaptive Reuse Housing Schools South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Grant School

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue; Tower Grove East Neighborhood; Saint Louis, Missouri
DATES OF CONSTRUCTION: 1893; 1902 (southern addition); 1965 (gymnasium)
ARCHITECTS: August H. Kirchner (original building); William B. Ittner (1902 addition only)
OWNER: Cohen-Esrey Development LLC

A dramatic transformation took the abandoned Grant School, which the St. Louis Public Schools closed in 1983, from a state of decay to one of restoration. Cohen-Esrey Development purchased the school building in 2005 and completed a multi-million-dollar renovation using state historic rehab tax credits. The new use is a complete change from the original purpose: now Grant School houses apartments for senior citizens.

This is a good turn in the life of the school, which was on the brink of terrible changes. Water coming in through the broken cupola had rotted a lot of the flooring and compromised structural timbers. The hipped-roof school building is one of the schools built while August Kirchner was chief architect for the Board of Education and was completed in 1893. Kirchner’s symmetrical Romanesque Revival design with prominent center gable is not as innovate as the later schools of architect William B. Ittner, but nonetheless is a significant expression of the local vernacular in native red brick and limestone. A later addition by Ittner is unobtrusive and adds a distinctive projecting bay that was hidden for many years behind a modern gymnasium addition that the developers demolished. The school building, named for Ulysses S. Grant, replaced the old Gravois School at Gravois Avenue and Wyoming Street that had opened in 1867 to serve the growing south side.

Photographs from August 17, 2006 (Michael R. Allen)

Photographs from November 2003 (Michael R. Allen)

Abandonment Hyde Park North St. Louis Schools

Irving School in Hyde Park

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.

Chicago Schools

Jacob Riis Elementary School

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 1018 S. Lytle Street; Chicago, Illinois
ARCHITECT: Arthur F. Hussander
OWNER: Chicago Public Schools

The Chicago city government plans to demolish shuttered Jacob Riis Elementary School as part of rebuilding of the ABLA Homes project, despite the school building’s excellent physical condition. The Chicago Public Schools closed Riis in 2001. Riis School is a sturdy and remarkable example of early Chicago Public Schools architecture, which diverges dramatically from St. Louis’ school styles set forth by architect William B. Ittner. Riis is rather boxy and strictly symmetrical, but is nonetheless a striking visual anchor in the Taylor Street area.

Why is Riis being demolished? To make way for a residential development that will replace the ABLA Homes, one of Chicago’s oldest public housing projects. The projected rise in enrollment from the surrounding neighborhoods — which will experience population boosts from the ABLA development project — will necessitate opening a new school in the area.

Maxwell and Taylor Streets once were the scene of economic diversity and use diversity. People can still see some of that world remaining on Taylor, where add-on storefronts abut row houses next door to apartment buildings and the public library. This mixed-use area is vital and active, but for how much longer will depend on the whims of the city development agencies as they import the suburban single-use zones under the guise of New Urbanist styles. The nearby University of Illinois at Chicago has already decimated the historic African-American Maxwell Street area for a bland world of one-brick-thick boxes.

Abandonment Carr Square North St. Louis Schools

Carr School

by Michael R. Allen

Located on Carr Street between 14th and 15th streets, the Carr School has stood as a forlorn reminder that the downtown renovation boom has left many buildings behind. The Carr School, an elementary school designed in 1908 by the celebrated school district architect William B. Ittner, was abandoned by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1983. Sitting on a block of mostly vacant lots surrounded by the Carr Square Village low-rise public housing project, the school seems precariously posed between death and life; the mostly-occupied apartments are in reasonable shape and of a mediocre (as opposed to awful) design, but the missing buildings on the block and others along 14th Street point to a different future altogether. The Carr Square Tenants’ Association owns the building and has struggled for two decades to renovate the building for elderly housing with no success. Consequently, the building has slid toward dereliction — even a short glance at the roof is saddening — and has been listed on the Landmarks’ Association’s Most Endangered Buildings List for many years running. The interior is in particularly bad shape, with plaster falling from most walls and many floors less than intact. Nevertheless, the brick walls and their ornamental tile work are in very good shape and retain their beauty.

Recall a time when such craftsmanship was common in elementary school design, and then attempt to imagine one of today’s new school buildings surviving 21 years of abandonment this gracefully. The difference in quality is staggering.

See more photos at Built St. Louis.

Abandonment Schools West End

Hamilton Branch Elementary School

LOCATION: 5858 & 5859 Clemens Avenue; Saint Louis, Missouri
DATES OF CONSTRUCTION: 1963 (two-story building); 1967 (one-story building)
OWNER: People’s Health Center, Inc.

This drab set of school buildings, across the street from each other, sit empty on a block that is rapidly being transformed. The St. Louis Public Schools built these buildings to relieve overcrowding at the original Hamilton Elementary School, 5819 Westminster. The district closed the branch school in the 1994 round of school closings. Private developers are building new — albeit anti-urban — homes in the 5800 blocks of Clemens, Enright and Cates. People’s Health Center has purchased the former school buildings for conversion to use as a neighborhood health center.

Photographs from August 2003 by Michael R. Allen

Added July 2004