Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School

Corkery School

Corkery School, ca. 1940. Courtesy of Bill Latoza.

Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School
2510 South Kildare Avenue
Historical profile by Elizabeth A. Patterson

Daniel J. Corkery School ironically takes its name from a man who dropped out of school. Born in Chicago in 1853 of Irish immigrant parents, Daniel Corkery (1853–1894) left school as a teenager to work for his father, a deliveryman with several teams of horses. A few years later, Corkery bought a coal wagon of his own and went into business for himself. By the time of his early death at 41, he owned the Chicago & Indiana Coal Company, which operated four Indiana coal mines. Active in Democratic politics and a leader in the city’s ward organizations, Corkery served briefly on the School Board before resigning to become Cook County Commissioner of Elections.(1)

The first Corkery School was established after his death, in 1898, when the School Board combined the existing Crawford and 31st Street schools in a building at Ogden and Kirkland Avenues. In 1906, when this school building became a branch of the Whitney School, the Corkery name was apparently transferred to several other small school buildings nearby, including one on the current Kildare Avenue site. This two-story brick building had nine rooms, including three classrooms in a dirt-floor basement. These were soon supplemented with several portable structures. Nevertheless, the growing school population in the largely Polish and Bohemian immigrant neighborhood quickly outpaced classroom space. (2)

Plans for a larger Corkery School were already underway by the end of 1908, when School Board architect Dwight H. Perkins requested funds for the new building, which was to have 26 rooms, an assembly hall, and a gymnasium. (3) When Corkery opened in 1911, the school was larger still, at 32 rooms housing 1,600 students. (4)

Corkery School

© 2013 James Iska

Like other school buildings of the Perkins era, the Corkery School was built from plans similar to those for several other schools. Corkery was a scaled-back version of the “1910” or “Nobel”-type schools: the Nobel, Harper, Gary, and Cleveland schools. Though Corkery had a few more classrooms and could hold more students than the Nobel model schools, it was smaller and less expensive. Perkins explained the differences as follows:

[Corkery] has no separate gymnasium. It has no play rooms under roof. It has no independent library. It has corridors 10’ wide instead of 15’ wide as heretofore, all of which are included in the NOBEL SCHOOL. Further, the class rooms are 2.5 feet narrower. (5)

(Although Perkins termed these cutbacks “educational changes,” it is also likely that they were made for more political reasons, as Perkins was then under intense scrutiny from the Board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, which expected him to make cutbacks and save money on school construction. By early 1910, he would be dismissed from his position as Architect to the Board of Education for his supposed “extravagance,” among other things.) (6)

Corkery School

© 2013 James Iska

As with the Nobel model schools, the exterior of Perkins’ fire-proof, four-story Corkery building was very modern-looking for its time. The building’s primary façade was spare and horizontal, with minimal embellishment beyond several simple limestone stringcourses and an integral brick cornice. A nearly free-standing assembly hall/gymnasium stands just to the east of the main building, marked by a wide-arched entryway at either end. (A small 1993 lunchroom addition now hides one end of Perkins’ assembly hall, but the addition echoes the original arched opening.) (7) The Irving Park Elementary School (now Disney II Magnet School), also completed in 1911, is virtually identical, but for the fact that this 24-room school has only three floors. (8)

Corkery School

© 2013 James Iska

Unlike many earlier Chicago schools, Corkery sat in the midst of a full block of open land, rather than cheek-by-jowl with surrounding houses. The open space surrounding Corkery School was the by-product of a growing consensus that urban children should be provided places to play in their ever more crowded neighborhoods. In particular, the playground space at Corkery was a cooperative effort between the Board of Education, which purchased and graded the property and provided utilities, and the Special Park Commission, which created landscape improvements, installed playground equipment, and built a small shelter house.

corkery School

Corkery School, ca. 1940. Courtesy of Bill Latoza.

The Special Park Commission provided year-round recreational programming such as track and field contests, ice-skating, and craft classes, while the School Board made the gymnasium available for indoor athletic activities after hours and on Sundays. (9) In 1914, its first full year of operation, the Corkery playground had an amazing total attendance of 254,284 children. (10)

Corkery School playground

Corkery School playground, ca. 1930. Chicago Park District Special Collections.

Corkery School

Corkery pageant at Kershaw playground, 1939. Chicago Park District Special Collections.

Nearly a century later, there was a similar cooperative playground effort for Corkery School. The playground became part of the City of Chicago’s “Campus Park” program in 2006. Through this initiative, the public building department hired Hayden Bulin Larson Design Group to create a new soft surface playground for the historic school. (11)

Corkery School

© 2013 James Iska

Notes

  1. Charles French, editor, Biographical History of the American Irish in Chicago (Chicago and New York: American Biographical Publishing Co., 1897), pp. 426-429; “Corkery School Named for Dropout Who Made It,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1967.
  2. “Corkery School Named for Dropout Who Made It,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1967; Unattributed 85th Anniversary History of Corkery School in the collection of the Chicago Public Schools Archive; 51st Annual Report of the Chicago Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1905, p. 25; Directory of the Public Schools of the City of Chicago, 1905…1906 (Chicago: Board of Education City of Chicago, 1906), pp. 60-61.
  3. Letter to Otto C. Schneider, President, Board of Education, from Dwight Perkins, dated December 1908, in the Dwight Perkins Papers at the Chicago History Museum.
  4. 57th Annual Report of the Chicago Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1911, p. 30.
  5. Undated manuscript in the Dwight Perkins Collection at the Chicago History Museum.
  6. Ibid.; “Architects Take Side of Perkins. St. Louis Expert Says Schools Are Constructed Creditably. Surprised At Low Cost,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 30, 1910.
  7. “City to Add 23 Schools, Rehab 83,” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1990; “Daniel J. Corkery School” at http://www.pbcchicago.com/content/projects/project_detail.asp?pID=S-2910.
  8. 57th Annual Report of the Chicago Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1911, p. 30.
  9. Annual Report, Special Park Commission, City of Chicago, for the Year Ending December 31, 1913, pp. 10, 30.
  10. Annual Report, Special Park Commission, City of Chicago, for the Year Ending December 31, 1914, pp. 32.
  11. “Daniel J. Corkery School Campus Park,” at http://www.pbcchicago.com/content/projects/project_detail.asp?pID=CP6-01.
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