Theodore Herzl School
3711 West Douglas Boulevard
Historical Profile by Elizabeth A. Patterson
Located on Chicago’s west side, Herzl Elementary School’s history parallels that of its North Lawndale neighborhood. The school had its beginnings with the rise of the community after 1900. After the Douglas Park line of the El was extended from Western Avenue to Crawford Avenue in 1902 and the Sears Roebuck mail order facility and various factories opened in the area, North Lawndale’s population surged. Between 1910 and 1920, the number of people living there doubled, from 46,226 to 93,750. Many of these were Russian Jews. (1)
The school itself seems to have had a rockier start. Purchase of the school site on West Douglas Boulevard was shrouded in controversy, as were many such purchases of the era. In early 1914, School Superintendent Ella Flagg Young testified before an investigative committee that the Board of Education had significantly overpaid for the site because it had not bought land on the open market. (2) Controversy aside, by 1914, the much-needed school was apparently already in operation in a collection of 25 portable classrooms, with five more on the way. What is more, the yet-to-be-built structure had already been named—in August, 1913—for the Budapest-born writer and Zionist, Theodore Herzl (1860–1904). (3)
Board architect Arthur F. Hussander designed the new Theodore Herzl School. It was one of eight new schools or additions that opened on September 1, 1915. Though at a capacity of 1,500 students it was the largest of the new school buildings, Herzl was very similar in design to the new Sabin, LeMoyne (now Inter-American Magnet), Chopin, Hibbard, Kelvyn Park, Portage Park, and O.A. Thorp schools. (4) Each structure rose to three stories, with a central section that stood slightly higher than the portions to either side. An elaborate, scalloped cornice capped each of these central blocks. (Only the Hibbard and Thorp schools retain their full cornices today.) The structures’ main facades featured monumental, two-story stone and brick porticoes inset with enormous Ionic columns and surrounded by stone “frames” and Greek fretwork imbedded in the brick.
Herzl School and its auditorium were quickly pressed into service for community activities. Between December 1916 and March 1917 alone, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the school hosted a 10-cent concert by the American Symphony orchestra; a speech by Samuel Agursky promoting a chain of cooperative stores; and a meeting sponsored by the Jewish branch of the American Socialist party, where a crowd of 1,500 celebrated the Russian revolution giving citizenship to Russian Jews. (5)
As Lawndale’s population continued to increase, the Superintendent in 1918 recommended building an addition to Herzl. The addition, which took the form of an “L” running from the south end of the original building, was built to Hussander’s design. The addition was not completed, however, until 1922, by which time John C. Christensen had become Board Architect.
In 1924, the newly-expanded Herzl School became a junior high school as part of a broader movement to create a new class of schools between the elementary and high school levels. The Board of Education hoped that the junior high schools would better prepare adolescent students for high school and discourage them from dropping out after eighth grade. (6)
After less than a decade, in 1933, the Board of Education abolished the junior highs to help cut a large deficit, and Herzl reverted to elementary school status. (7) (A portion of the Herzl building simultaneously served as a branch of Manley High School.) Two years later, the Board again ordered the building’s conversion, this time to the Herzl Junior College, a function it held until at least 1953.
Between 1930 and 1950, the number of North Lawndale residents dropped by approximately 100,000, as the Jewish population moved northward to neighborhoods such as Albany Park and Rogers Park. Around 1950, African Americans began to move into North Lawndale. The neighborhood’s population rose again, to a new high of 125,000 in 1960. Before long, Herzl School was filled to the limit and beyond. The School Board then redrew residential boundaries in order to eliminate double shifts and brought in mobile classrooms once again to relieve overcrowding. (8)
Riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the departure of Sears and other manufacturers in the late 1960s and the 1970s led to another downturn in population. Nevertheless, Herzl School remained an anchor of the community, and continues to serve the needs of North Lawndale today. (9 )
- The Chicago Fact Book Consortium, editors. Local Community Fact Book, Chicago Metropolitan Area, 1990. Chicago: The Chicago Fact Book Consortium, 1995, p. 107.
- “Mrs. Young Says City was Fleeced,” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1914.
- “Herzl School,” archival records in the collection of the Chicago Public Schools; “Many Rooms Vacant,” Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1914.
- Herzl, like Sabin and LeMoyne, were executed in tan brick. Chopin, Hibbard, Kelvyn Park, Portage Park, and O. A. Thorp are built of red brick.
- “Music Lovers to Get 10 Cent Concerts Today,” Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1916; “Plan Co-operative Stores to Defeat Living Cost,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1916; “1,500 Jews Cheer Birth of a New Era in Russia,” Chicago Tribune, March 26, 1917.
- The History of the Junior High Schools in the Chicago Public Schools. Undated report in the collection of the Chicago Public Schools Archive.
- “Cut City School Costs $5,000,000.00: Abolish Junior Highs, Trim Out Fads and Frills,” Chicago Tribune, July 13, 1933.
- “Parental Ire Retires Four Mobile Units,” Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1962; “80 New Mobile Units to Be Added by Schools,” Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1967.
- Local Community Fact Book, 1990, p. 107; http://www.cps.edu.