Albert G. Lane Technical High School
2501 West Addison
Historical profile by Elizabeth A. Patterson
Albert G. Lane Technical High School, better known as “Lane Tech,” memorializes one of Chicago’s leading figures in education, Albert Grannis Lane (1841–1906). Born on a farm on what is now the far west side, Lane was a standout from a very young age. At 17, even before he had graduated from Chicago’s first high school, Lane was named principal of the Near North side Franklin School. After ten years in that position, he became superintendent of the Cook County schools, which included all Cook County schools outside of Chicago. In 1891, as the city was experiencing rapid growth through annexation, Lane was appointed superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools. (1) Over the years, Lane became committed to offering “manual” or vocational training in the public schools. The schools, he felt, should strive for “educating the hands as well as the mind.” (2)
Though limited manual training became part of the curriculum during the 1890s, the idea did not fully bear fruit until 1903, when Crane Manual Training School, the first school building devoted solely to the vocational training of boys, opened on Chicago’s West side. The school proved so successful that another was envisioned for the North side. In 1905, the Hoyne Manual Training School opened in a portion of an existing elementary school building, but a dedicated structure was clearly warranted.
To meet this need, the talented Board of Education architect Dwight H. Perkins designed an impressive structure at the corner of Sedgwick and Division, (coincidentally the site of the old Franklin School where Albert Lane had been principal). The striking brick building, with its many large windows designed to let in maximum light, rose five stories at the center, with three-story, L-shaped wings at either side. Perkins noted at the time that the purpose of the design was to “express as near as possible by simple and direct composition the use for which the building is built.” (3) The three lower stories provided space for shop rooms, various industrial and scientific laboratories, mechanical drawing rooms, classrooms, and an assembly hall. A lunchroom, gymnasium and running track were located on the smaller upper floors of the central block.
Perkins’ Lane Manual Training School opened its doors in 1908. To encourage the Lane students in their endeavors, the Public School Art Society, led by Mrs. John B. Buckingham, soon commissioned advanced students at the Art Institute of Chicago to paint four labor-themed murals. (4) In 1913, the PSAS commissioned George Henry Brandt to execute another eight murals depicting Native American life. (Most, if not all, of these murals were later relocated to the current Lane Tech building.) (5)
Perkins’ Lane Tech building, forward-looking as it was, was almost immediately too small to meet the demand for manual training classes. The popularity of the school’s curriculum continually increased, so that by the early 1930s, the 7,000 boys were housed not only in the main building on Sedgwick, but also in five branch schools and 60 portable classrooms.
By the late 1920s, the need for a much larger building had become more than apparent, and the money needed to build it seemed finally available. Board of Education Architect Paul Gerhardt, Sr., developed a plan for a sprawling Academic Gothic style campus on a 30-acre lot at Addison and Western, then adjacent to the popular Riverview amusement park. Gerhardt’s plan encompassed not only a large central building, but also two sizable ancillary buildings, one on either side, and two athletic stadiums. (6)
By the time ground was broken in 1930, the Great Depression had struck, and the board could construct only a single building. Not long after the cornerstone was laid in June 1931, however, labor troubles slowed progress. Because of the financial crisis, construction soon came to a complete halt. The school’s steel skeleton stood exposed to the weather for several long years. Finally, construction resumed through a grant from the federal Public Works Administration. (7)
Gerhardt’s successor as Board Architect, John C. Christensen, oversaw the final phases of Lane Tech’s construction (and indeed put his name to the Tudor Gothic style design when the school was dedicated in 1934). Even without the hoped-for auxiliary structures, the new Lane Tech was said to be “the largest technical high school in the world.” (8) The immense building rises four and five stories, with crenellated towers that are higher still.
The various sections of the building form a square around a central courtyard. Like Perkins’ earlier Lane Tech, the new school included the latest in industrial and scientific equipment and technology in its many shops and classrooms. It featured four gymnasiums, a swimming pool, and a 2,200-seat auditorium. It was also equipped with the latest systems: it was heated by both convection and direct radiation, ventilated by 12 enormous blowers, and powered by a 1,950 horsepower electrical load.
Between 1939 and 1941, the WPA funded and built the adjacent Academic Gothic style stadium. Federal New Deal funds also helped to fill the immense building with art. Among the many works that grace the corridors are frescoes in the lunchroom by Edgar Britton, frescoes in the auditorium foyer by Mitchell Siporin, a painted fire curtain in the auditorium by John Walley, and carvings in the library by Peter Paul Ott. The art collection includes dozens of murals created for A Century of Progress, Chicago’s second World’s Fair. The art collection deteriorated over the years, but since 1995 Lane Tech teacher Flora Doody has spearheaded an ambitious effort to conserve the artworks. (9)
Lane Tech’s long and storied history reached another significant milestone in 1971, when girls first joined the student body. Though some male students protested, claiming that the school’s academic standards would be damaged, the reverse proved to be the case. Today, eighty-five-percent of Lane Tech’s co-ed student population continues on to college. (10)
- “Albert G. Lane, 1841-1906,” Fifty-Third Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ended June 30, 1907, pp. 116-119.
- “Albert G. Lane Technical High School,” undated document in the collection of the Chicago Public Schools Archive.
- Undated report in the correspondence of Dwight H. Perkins in the collection of the Chicago History Museum; Inland Architect, November 1908, p. 63.
- Report of the Chicago Public School Art Society, 1909, p. 10; Sylvia Christina Rohr, Mural Painting and Public Schools in Chicago, 1905–1941 (PhD dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2004), pp. 92-93. As Ms. Rohr has correctly points out, Mrs. Buckingham is often confused with the more well-known Kate Buckingham, who never married.
- Heather Becker, Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904–1943 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002), pp. 146-147.
- Lane Technical High School: 75 Years of Achievement, A History of Lane (Lane Tech Diamond Jubilee Publication, 1983), pp. 14-15.
- “New Lane Tech Opens,” Ravenswood News, September 19, 1934; John Wesley Bell, The Development of the Public High School in Chicago (PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 1939), pp. 46-47.
- “Chicago to Have World’s Largest Technical High School,” Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1930.
- 75 Years of Achievement, A History of Lane, pp. 14-15; Lisa Fleischer, “History Restored with Long-Lost Mural,” Chicago Tribune, November 11, 2005.