Ariel Community Academy
North Kenwood Oakland Charter Elementary School
1110 East 46th Street
Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach
In 2001, the Chicago Public Schools completed a $12.5 million renovation of the old Shakespeare School building. This project not only provided the thorough rehabilitation of a significant historic building, but also allowed the structure, which had stood vacant several years earlier, to fully accommodate two separate schools, Ariel Community Academy and North Kenwood Oakland Charter Elementary School (NKO). As parents and students of both schools gathered in the building’s auditorium for dedication ceremonies, “Two ribbons were tied together to symbolize the coming together of the two schools.” (1) This initiative to reuse a large building to house two smaller schools was highlighted in a publication entitled Schools Sharing Buildings, A Toolkit: Principles and Practice from the Chicago Public Schools. A website known as Architects of Achievement, which is devoted to creating “bridges between education and architecture,” offers this pamphlet as a resource for school districts throughout the nation as they grapple with efforts to save underutilized historic schools. (2)
The Schools Sharing Buildings pamphlet explains that Shakespeare School’s layout was well-suited to the conversion. The building’s floor plan allows each of the schools to have “…its own wing with separate entrances and signage, and shared space in the center of the building.” (3) The building adapted well to its two functions because Shakespeare School began as small structure that opened in 1892 with a series of additions built between the 1890s and the mid-1950s.
The school building is located in the Kenwood community, which became part of Chicago in 1889, when the Village of Hyde Park was annexed to the city. The following year, a local committee secured Chicago as the location for a major world’s fair, and Jackson Park and adjacent Midway Plaisance were selected as the site for the World’s Columbian Exposition (4). Preparations for the fair spurred rapid growth throughout the South Side, particularly in the neighborhoods located in close proximity to the fairgrounds, such as the area encompassing what had been the Village of Hyde Park, including Kenwood and Oakland, the community area just north of Kenwood.
In the early 1890s, the Board of Education took control of many existing schools in the newly annexed areas of the city. (5) One example, the Greenwood Avenue School had been built at southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and 46th Street in 1881 (6). Although it was less than a decade old, the two-story brick building could not satisfy the surging numbers of elementary school children in the surrounding area. The Board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee instructed its head architect John J. Flanders to design a large new sixteen-classroom building in two well-orchestrated stages.
In the first phase, Flanders produced plans for a six-classroom structure to be built at the southeast side of the lot. Designed to seat approximately 400 pupils, this first portion of the building could be built “without interfering with pupils attending this school.” (7) Contracts were awarded for the initial six-classroom building in August of 1891.
The second phase called for a much larger structure with ten more classrooms, two recitation rooms, and a large assembly hall on the upper floor. “Contracts were awarded for the erection of this part of the building February 17, 1892.” (8) Through this two-phase process, students were able to occupy the first part of the new building in the fall of 1892 while the larger second phase was under construction. The older Greenwood Avenue School was then demolished. When completed in 1893, the building provided space for 884 students. (9)
The larger, second-phase portion of the complex, an L-shaped structure that faced both Greenwood and 46th Street, connected with the older six-classroom structure in the rear to form a “U”, thereby creating a courtyard space between the two masses. The overall effect was quite harmonious.
Flanders rendered the two-and-a half story building in the Queen Anne style. The part of the existing building is composed of red brick and brightly contrasting limestone. The masonry includes rusticated cut stone along the entire base of the building, as well as smooth limestone arches, panels, stringcourses. Doorways at both Greenwood Avenue and 46th Street have smooth limestone surrounds with simple Gothic style detailing. A steeply pitched hipped roof tops the building. Broad dormers on both facades feature open porches or porticos; Doric columns support their engaged, hipped roofs.
The Board of Education formally named Greenwood Avenue School in honor of William Shakespeare (1564— 1616), the famous English playwright in 1904. The board’s Special Committee on Naming Schools had just adopted a new policy to select school names that fell into one of three categories—United States Presidents; American figures who have made great accomplishments or have performed distinguished service to the city of Chicago; and “foreigner personages who have distinguished themselves in the field of science, art, literature, education, patriotism, or philanthropy.” (10) At this time, the committee renamed many schools that had previously known by their locations in order to fulfill the new naming policy.
By the early 1920s, Shakespeare School suffered from severe overcrowding. In fact, the board installed portable classrooms adjacent to the school to handle the overflow. John C. Christensen designed a large building addition that replaced the mobile classrooms in 1924. The $450,000 addition included ten classrooms, a cafeteria, gymnasium, library, sewing room and office. (11)
Christensen, who was first appointed as the board’s head architect three years earlier, often rendered additions to closely match the appearance of original buildings. Here, however; he took the opposite approach, designing Shakespeare’s addition as though it were a completely separate building located next door to the old school. Unlike red brick and rusticated limestone of the original building, Christensen’s addition is composed of tan brick, smooth cut limestone details. He rendered the building in the Classical Revival style with symmetrical rows of rectangular windows, with the multiple bays divided by tall, fluted limestone pilasters. Several doors and windows are topped by fanciful broken pediments pierced with Classical urns in sculptural relief.
In the post-WWII era, Chicago’s population grew rapidly, and Shakespeare School’s problems with overcrowding became even more extreme. In 1951, the situation was so dire, that the school began to hold classes in double shifts (12). Two years later, the Board of Education completed an $855,000 addition on the west side of the complex. (13) Christensen also designed this nineteen-classroom addition, which was more modern and utilitarian in appearance than the previous one. But this final addition did not fully resolve Shakespeare School’s overcrowding issue. Enrollment numbers continued to surge, and in the late 1950s, the school went back to double shifts. The Board of Education soon changed attendance boundaries, which sent many students to other nearby schools with recent additions and mobile classrooms.
During this period Kenwood’s population underwent a dramatic shift. According to the Local community Fact Book, “In 1950, the community was almost 85 percent white, and in 1960, it had changed to 84 percent black.” (14) Kenwood and adjacent South Side neighborhoods fell into decline. The area suffered from overcrowding, dilapidated housing, high unemployment rates, and inadequate city services. South Side schools received few improvements and suffered disproportionate overcrowding and inadequate staffing.
Strong community organizations such as the Hyde Park- Kenwood Community Conference and the Southeast Chicago Commission fostered neighborhood revitalization efforts and the area received substantial urban renewal funding. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of the older homes that had been converted to multiple units decades earlier, were rehabilitated and reconverted to single family dwellings. Improvements to the area also attracted new development, and Kenwood became a racially mixed middle class neighborhood. In 1992, the Chicago Public Schools closed Shakespeare School, in response to poor academic performance and low attendance. The area around the school continued to improve in the late 1990s, and high ranking officials including Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (now president of the Cook County Board) and Arne Duncan (who was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools and now serves as U.S. Secretary of Education) led the movement to convert Shakespeare School into the dual Ariel Community Academy and NKO campus (15).
- Rick Hepp, “Comeback Continues as Schools Dedicated,” Chicago Tribune, May 30, 2001, available at http://www.archachieve.net/smallschools/SharingSpace.html.
- Architects of Achievement: Designing Schools that Work for All Students, available at http://www.archachieve.net/smallschools/SharingSpace.html, link to document: http://www.archachieve.net/smallschools/Resources/tookits/SchoolsSharingBuildings.pdf
- Ibid, p. 11.
- Julia S. Bachrach, The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks, Second Edition, 2012, p. 13.
- Proceedings of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, July 23, 1890 to June 30, 1891, p. 21.
- The Public Schools of Chicago: Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1891, p. vi.
- The Public Schools of Chicago: Thirty-eighth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1892, p. 100.
- The Public Schools of Chicago: Thirty-ninth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1893, p. 203.
- Proceedings of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, July 8, 1903 to June 22, 1904, p. 766.
- “$1 Million Addition to Morgan Park High School,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 9, 1924, p. A. 15.
- “Parents Fight Grade School 2-Shift Plan,” Chicago Tribune, August 26, 1951, p. S1.
- “4 New Schools, 7 Additions to Open on Sept. 9,” Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1953, p. 10.
- The Chicago Fact Book Consortium, Local Community Fact Book Chicago Metropolitan Area: Based on the 1970 and 1980 Censuses.
- Mary Patillo, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, The University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 160.