William H. Ray Elementary School
5631 South Kimbark Avenue
Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach
Ray School opened in March of 1894 as Hyde Park High School. Five years earlier, the Village of Hyde Park had been annexed into Chicago, as part of a major expansion of the city. On a single day in 1889, “voters in a surrounding 120 square miles” outside of Chicago “elected to join the city.” (1) The village had already established a high school at 57th and Kenwood Avenue which also had elementary grades. The Chicago Board of Education took possession of the old Hyde Park High School, but the building soon became inadequate for its growing neighborhood. The area’s population began surging as preparations were underway for the World’s Columbian Exposition which opened in nearby Jackson Park in 1893.
The Board of Education initially allocated $75,000 in early 1893 to build an eighteen-room school building as the new Hyde Park High School (2). The Building and Grounds Committee soon nearly doubled the budget to provide a much larger building. The last high school building designed by John J. Flanders during his tenure as the board’s architect, the building would become Chicago’s largest public high school in its time. Flanders designed a thirty-four classroom structure with an auditorium, lunchrooms, an art room, a library, a gymnasium, and numerous laboratories, “supplied with the latest and best chemical, philosophical, and biological apparatus,” as well as a room “devoted to the Agassiz Society’s museum.” (3) (Louis Agassiz was an acclaimed nineteenth century scientist who specialized in natural history.)
Flanders had previously designed a major addition to West Division High School, but the new Hyde Park High School was considered a much more ambitious design. When it was completed, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that “Prof. Sloan of Princeton College, who inspected it recently, pronounced it far ahead of anything in its line that the East has produced.” (4)
Flanders rendered the building as an elegant Queen Anne style brick structure with octagonal bays, a rusticated limestone base, and bands of terra cotta ornamentation. The AIA Guide to Chicago suggests that the building “is distinguished by Flanders’s signature band of ornament and full-height octagonal bays rising to an unusually high roofline.” (5)
By the end of Flanders’ tenure, the Board of Education was paying its architect a fee based on 1¼ percent of contract budget for the preparation of plans, and another 1¼ percent for overseeing the construction. (6) Considering that the Hyde Park High School’s construction budget exceeded $140,000, Flanders received a handsome fee of just over $1,700 for preparing its plans. In February of 1893, the board amended its practice by establishing a Building Department to be headed by an architect who would receive a fixed annual salary of $6,000. (7) W. August Fiedler was appointed to the position, and along with dozens of projects underway at that time, he supervised the construction of the new Hyde Park High School.
Unfortunately, the much-praised Hyde Park High School could not keep up with the rapidly increasing student body. In 1895 (only the building’s second year), the school’s entire freshman class attended courses in rented rooms. In 1912, Hyde Park High School moved into a more commodious building at 6220 South Stony Island Avenue. Two years later, the old Hyde Park building reopened as William H. Ray Elementary.
When Hyde Park High School first opened in 1894, a nearby elementary school at 57th Street and Kenwood Avenue was already named Ray School. It honored William Henry Ray (1858–1889), a highly respected teacher who served as principal of Hyde Park High School for six years prior to the annexation of the village. Like Hyde Park High School, the old Ray School suffered from overcrowding. In 1897, when another elementary school known as Kozminski School opened in the neighborhood, it accommodated three grades of students from Ray School. (8) (After the old Ray School closed in 1914, the building was used as a parochial school. It was razed in the late 1940s and its site became Bixler Park.)
By 1914, when Flanders’s 1894 high school building reopened as the new Ray Elementary, it had an addition designed by Arthur F. Hussander. The two-story wing includes a lively roof line with projecting eaves. Its main gabled end features vertical windows over the assembly hall frieze.
Over the years, problems with overcrowding persisted, eventually spurring the construction of a second addition designed by John C. Christensen and built in 1955. A this final addition was built on the north side of the complex by the Public Building Commission in 1996.
- Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade, Chicago Growth of a Metropolis (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1969), p. 176.
- “German Saved Again,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 13, 1893, p.6.
- Public Schools of the City of Chicago: Fortieth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 29, 1894, p. 124, and “Pride in its School,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 19, 1894, p. 8.
- “Pride in its School,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 19, 1894, p. 8.
- AIA Guide to Chicago, Second Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, ed., Harcourt, Brace & Co., 2004, p. 458.
- Public Schools of the City of Chicago: Thirty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1893, p. 187.
- Ibid, pp. 191-192.
- “Among Architects and Builders,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9. 1897, p 34.