In 1924, the Board of Education selected Edgar D. Martin to supervise the largest building campaign ever undertaken by the school system. More than $100 million was appropriated to the building fund in a four-year period between 1924 and 1927. Martin was given a new position of Supervisory Architect to head three divisions: the Bureau of Architecture, the Bureau of Engineering, and the Bureau of Repairs.
Born in Burlington, Iowa, Martin had studied engineering, mathematics and art in Paris. In 1906, he and architects Hugh M.G. Garden and Richard E. Schmidt formed the partnership of Schmidt, Garden & Martin. Known for designing handsome Prairie style buildings such as the Humboldt Park boat house and refectory, the firm specialized in hospitals and industrial buildings including the Montgomery Ward & Company Catalog House. Martin was adept at resolving the complex technical issues associated with large commercial and industrial buildings.
Between 1918 and 1923, Martin also served as the Illinois State Architect, and in this position he supervised the design of several large government buildings including the Illinois National Guard Armory which was located on E. Chicago Avenue (demolished in 1993 to make way for the Museum of Contemporary Art). He resigned from Schmidt, Garden and Martin in 1925, forming a partnership with the renowned firm of Pond and Pond, which then became known as Pond and Pond and Edgar Martin.
In heading up the building program for the Chicago Public Schools, Martin had to find a way to build quickly and inexpensively. He proposed using reinforced concrete in place of the steel framing that had traditionally been used. Martin worked closely with John C. Christensen who headed the Bureau of Architecture to prepare plans and construction documents for more than 30 buildings using the new system. Most of these buildings were rendered in handsome Revival styles with terra cotta details. Martin’s designs include Hirsch Junior High School (now Hirsch Metropolitan High School), as well as Hale, Nightingale, O’Keeffe, Scammon, Peck, Lewis, Ruggles, and Coles elementary schools.
Martin resigned from his Board of Education position in July of 1925. The following spring, as the concrete forms were being removed from Nathan Hale School, it became apparent that some of the new building’s floors were sagging and cracking. Engineering tests determined that the concrete structure would need a new foundation and supplementary steel framing. Extensive tests in all of the buildings that utilized the new framing system revealed that similar extensive repairs would be needed before they could be occupied. These schools became known as “the defectives,” however, the structural problems were considered a flaw in the construction. Neither Martin nor Christensen (who headed the Bureau of Architecture under Martin and later succeeded him) was ever formally blamed for the defect.