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Chicago Schools

Jacob Riis Elementary School

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 1018 S. Lytle Street; Chicago, Illinois
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: 1915
DATE OF CLOSURE: 2001
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.

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