Bernhard Moos School
1711 N. California Avenue
Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach
Located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, Bernhard Moos School held an assembly in 2002, when historian Emily Rose came for a visit. Rose asked: “Do you know what an immigrant is?” (1) The students replied yes. She then asked whether they knew anything about their school’s name. In unison, they answered no. Ms. Rose, author of Portraits of Our Past: Jews of the German Countryside, explained that she is a distant relative of the school’s namesake, Bernhard Moos (1842–1895). She went on to inform the children that Moos was a German Jewish immigrant who arrived in Chicago in 1861 and opened a successful tobacco shop. He had a great love of reading, and “served as a volunteer librarian, overseeing a 300-book collection in the basement of the downtown building that also housed his popular cigar and snuff store.” (2) After Moos’s store was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, he not only rebuilt his own business, but he also became an influential civic leader who helped build Chicago’s first permanent public library. (Located at the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue, the building now houses the Chicago Cultural Center.)
Moos did not live to see the full realization of his dream of a magnificent library in Chicago. He died two years before the building’s dedication in October of 1897. Fellow library board members wanted to make sure his contributions were remembered. Several months before the library’s completion they passed a resolution formally asking the Board of Education to name a school in Moos’s honor (3). The school board agreed and soon named the old Humboldt School at California and Wabansia avenues as Moos School.
In 1907, the original Moos School was demolished and replaced with a large new structure produced by head architect Dwight H. Perkins. Designed to house 26 classrooms with an assembly hall and gymnasium, the building looks like a stripped down version of a medieval castle. The AIA Guide to Chicago asserts that the building can be “…best described as castellated Chicago School, with crenellated parapets above the projecting stair towers.” (4)
Soon after the building’s construction, professional journals and periodicals touted its modern and innovative design. The Brickbuilder reported that spacious building, composed of “dark brown vitrified brick” and trimmed with terra cotta in a matching color, sat on expansive grounds, with enough space for several playgrounds as well as “carefully planned vegetable gardens.” (5) A lengthy Architectural Record article described Moos School along with other Perkins-designed schools built in the previous five years as representative of the architect’s “progressive spirit and independent thought.” (6)
Chicago’s horrific Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903 had recently led to stringent new fire codes. Perkins carefully responded to the new standards by designing Moos School as a fully fireproof building with a solid and sturdy appearance. Architectural Record suggested that the “exterior walls are all buttressed for strength, not for ornament, and are made effective with the simple details employed in the offsets, and as combined with the wall coping, whose line is carried continuously around the entire building, producing a marked effect of unity.” (7) Extra wide stair halls, iron stairways, and extra exits were also provided for “escape in case of fire.” (8)
Moos School was one of the first buildings in which Perkins provided separate bathrooms for boys and girls, and stacking them on each floor. (9) This was a significant improvement because traditionally bathrooms had been located only in school basements and teachers had to herd children down crowded stairways to use the bathroom. This plan for having bathrooms on every floor was considered one of “the most radical features” of new school designs of the period. (9)
Pullman, Longfellow, and Kosciuszko schools followed the Moos School prototype. Perkins suggested that along with other measures, he advocated using similar or identical plans for more than one building to keep construction costs down. He reported that the $204,000 contract cost of Moos School represented $15.70 per cubic feet, and $157 per pupil, comparing favorably with other American cities, suggesting that his schools were “being built as economically as any in the country.” (10)
Despite Perkins’s careful budgeting and thoughtful designs, his work was not well received by members of the Board of Education because he had publicly refused to participate in various schemes of political graft. After visiting Moos School and other new buildings in 1910, Board President Alfred R. Urion declared that the structures provided “tangible evidence of the incompetence and extravagance on the part of the architect.” (11) Forced to participate in a series of hearings held by the board, Perkins presented substantial evidence to prove that his buildings were economical and well designed. Though lionized by the press and supported by the public as well as other professional architects, Perkins was soon forced to resign.
In the late twentieth century, Moos School suffered from overcrowding. To provide space for a major expansion, in 2001, the Chicago Public Schools worked with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to remediate an adjacent area that had been previously used for coal storage and distribution. (12) Designed by RGI Inc., Terra Engineering, Ltd., the Structural Shop, Ltd., and Innovative Building Concepts, Inc., the addition is respectful to the historic structure.
- Jon Anderson, “Whats in a Name: Pupils Get a Lesson,” Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2002, 2C-6.
- “City Split on City Suit,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 9, 1897, p. 7.
- Alice Sinkevitch, ed. AIA Guide to Chicago, second edition, Harcourt Inc., 2004, p. 266.
- “Three New Schoolhouses, Chicago: Dwight H. Perkins, Architect,” The Brickbuilder, VXVIII, No. 11, November, 1909.
- Peter B. Wight, “Public School Architecture at Chicago: The Work of Dwight H. Perkins,” The Architectural Record, Volume 27, June, 1910.
- Three New Schoolhouses,” The Brickbuilder.
- Fifty-fifth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1909, March, 1910, p. 33.
- “Urion and Board Inspect Schools,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 18, 1910, p. 12.
- Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Site Remediation Program 2001 Annual Report, p. 8. Available on-line at: http://www.epa.state.il.us/land/site-remediation/annual-reports/srp-annual-2001.pdf