Lyman Trumbull Elementary School

Trumbull School

Trumbull School, ca. 1920. Courtesy of Edgewater Historical Society.

Lyman Trumbull Elementary School
5200 North Ashland Avenue
Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach

At the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, Lyman Trumbull School closed down after operating as an elementary school for more than a century. In May of 2013, the Board of Education announced its final decision to shutter 50 Chicago public schools. This effort has resulted in “the largest single wave of planned public school closures in U.S. history.” (1) Thousands of students and their families feel deeply embittered by the decision. A group of Trumbull School parents who had children in special education programs there have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools. On June 24, 2013, the school’s final day, hundreds of parents, teachers, and children gathered for a bittersweet goodbye celebration at the building on the corner of West Foster and North Ashland avenues in the Andersonville community.

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

Interestingly, similar activities occurred at the same location more than a hundred years ago, when citizens celebrated the construction of the large, two-tone brick building named for Lyman Trumbull (1813 – 1896) a lawyer and U.S. Senator from Illinois who helped write the 13th Amendment. Throngs gathered on October 3, 1908, for a ceremony to lay Trumbull School’s cornerstone. Children sang and marched. Superintendent Edwin Cooley, Chief Justice Harry Olson, and the Chicago Public Schools’ head architect Dwight H. Perkins made speeches. (2) The school opened in the fall of 1909 and was formally dedicated the following spring. (3)

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

Perkins used the same set of plans for Trumbull and for the George Tilton Elementary School, located on the city’s West Side. In its 1907 Annual Report, the Board of Education published floor plans labeled as “Tilton and Trumbull Schools,” with text describing the prototype as “a new type of school building.”(4)

Tilton School

Tilton Elementary School, ca. 1910. Courtesy of Bill Latoza.

The Architectural Record described Trumbull and Tilton schools as representing “the most successful of all of Mr. Perkins’ designs.” (5) Among several innovative aspects of the plan was that it could adapt to the unpredictable needs related to future growth. Perkins designed the 20-room buildings to allow for one or two 10-room additions that could be constructed “without interfering with school sessions.” (6) As anticipated, the need for more space quickly arose and an addition was constructed in 1913 at the north end of the building.

Trumbull School

Trumbull School, ca. 1940. The 1913 addition can be seen beyond the tower on the far right. Courtesy of Bill Latoza.

In addition to the adaptability of the floor plan, the design had features that were considered revolutionary at the time. For instance, bathrooms had long been included only in the basements of schools, and students had to line up in crowded dreary spaces for their chance to use the toilet. Perkins decided to provide bathrooms on every story. As the Chicago Daily Tribune explained: “the most radical feature of the new building will be the complete elimination of the basement. Toilet conveniences will be placed in ‘tower rooms’ on each floor.” (7)

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

The exterior appearance of the two identical buildings also represented “a bold departure from traditional school architecture.” (8) Each is composed of a large box-like mass with strong horizontal lines formed by two shades of tan brick. This horizontality is juxtaposed with vertical elements expressed through hipped roof towers, as well as lines expressed in the fenestration. (The hipped roofs of Trumbull’s towers were later removed, although Tilton still retains these elements.)

The Brickbuilder, an early 20th-century architectural publication, highlighted the importance of the alternating colors of the brick, terra cotta, and stone in enlivening what might otherwise have been large, mundane facades:

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

A rather unusual appearance results from the horizontal bands upon the exterior. These courses are made of buff brick, alternating in the light and dark tones. The base and lower trimmings are of Bedford stone, while above the first story is substituted with terra cotta, which maintains the same color and texture as the adjacent brick. The towers lend considerable interest to what might otherwise prove a monotonous and tiresome treatment of the façade and at the same time provide for toilet rooms on each floor. (9)

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

Among Perkins’s other design innovations were modern ventilation, “unilateral light” in all classrooms, and a large, spacious auditorium with “easy access to the main entrances” that would make the space practical for community meetings and events. (10) In 1913, an unknown artist painted two arched murals depicting Christopher Columbus’s ships sailing to the New World above the doorways leading into Trumbull School’s auditorium. The Chicago Conservation Center conserved the murals in 2011.

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

After Chicago Public Schools decided to close Trumbull Elementary, officials considered removing the two murals in early June 2013, to have them placed in protective storage. Parents especially objected to the idea of removing the murals while classes were still in session, and administrators agreed to delay the removal until sometime after the school’s closing. (11) As of September 2013, the murals remain in place. This is also true for dozens of other murals in six other newly-closed schools.

In addition to Lyman Trumbull School, there are other Perkins-designed buildings that are on the list of recently closed schools. These are Graeme Stewart School in the Uptown community and Francis Scott Key School in Austin.

Trumbull School

© 2013 James Iska

Notes

  1. “Chicago School Closings Vote: Board of Education Votes to Shutter 50 Public Schools,” The Huffington Post, May 22, 2013 available on-line at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/chicago-school-closings_n_3319755.html
  2. “Stone to be Laid in Style,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 3, 1908, p. 3.
  3. “Want City Folks on Farm,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 19. 1910, p. 3.
  4. Fifty-forth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1908, March 1909, plate between pp. 154-55, and p. 174.
  5. Peter B. Wight, “Public School Architecture at Chicago: The Work of Dwight H. Perkins,” The Architectural Record, Volume 27, June 1910, p. 7.
  6. Fifty-forth Annual Report, p. 174.
  7. “New Type of School; No Basement: Expected by Board of Education’s Architect That It Will Stop Crowding,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 14, 1907, p. 3.
  8. Julia S. Bachrach and Jo Ann Nathan, Inspired by Nature: The Garfield Park Conservatory and Chicago’s West Side, Chicago: Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, 2008, p. 114.
  9. “Three New Schoolhouses, Chicago: Dwight H. Perkins, Architect,” The Brickbuilder, VXVIII, No. 11, November, 1909, p. 229.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Jennifer Delgado, “Historic Murals to Stay at Trumbull Elementary, for now,” Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2013, available on-line at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-07/news/ct-met-historic-trumbull-mural-20130607_1_heather-becker-murals-cps-schools
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