Richard Yates School 1839 North Richmond Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach
In 1896, when construction began on a new school that would be located just east of Humboldt Boulevard and Cortland Avenue, the Board of Education referred to the building as the “Boulevard School.” (1) Earlier that year, the board had proposed naming the school for Herman H. Kohlsaat (1853 – 1924), a nationally-influential Chicago newspaper editor and publisher. Kohlsaat responded with a letter to board officials declining the gesture. He explained that he had “… always opposed naming the schools after living men,” and suggesting that it would be “inconsistent for him to accept the honor.” (2) After receiving Kohlsaat’s letter, the board officially named the “Boulevard School” in honor of Richard Yates (1818 – 1873), the thirteenth governor of Illinois. (3) A prominent supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and a well-known antislavery figure, Yates was nicknamed the “War Governor” because of his strong support of the Union Army during the Civil War. (4)
Richard Yates School was one of a dozen schools designed by the Chicago Board of Education’s head architect, W. August Fiedler, that opened in 1896. Others include August Burley School, Henry Nash School, George Schneider School (now Alcott College Prep West Campus), Charles Kozminski School, D.R. Cameron School, and John M. Smyth School. (5) All of these buildings are similar in design. Rectangular in plan and having flat roofs, they are composed of red brick with rusticated limestone bases. Among other shared architectural elements are arched windows and doorways, three-sided projecting bays, intricately patterned brickwork, and fanciful carved limestone details.
While Fiedler produced a large collection of stately school buildings, Richard Yates School is among the loveliest and most highly ornamented structures within the group. Its exquisite details include side porticos with two-level balconies that have carved limestone Corinthian columns and upper railings of metal tracery.
The building also has unglazed terra cotta panels of Sullivanesque foliage, as well as arched window hoods pierced by sculptural busts that serve as keystones. The projecting central portion of the west façade features a second-story terra cotta stringcourse bearing the words “Richard Yates.” An exquisite pair of five-foot-tall, terra cotta angels embellishes the corners of this stringcourse.
Shortly before the completion of this school, the Board of Education boasted about the success of August Fiedler’s recent work in its 1896 annual report. The document states:
“…under the administration of the present architect, our buildings have become models, in consonance with the grandeur of our city. Architectural beauty and stability have gone hand in hand, and we take pleasure in commending the head of this bureau, as well as his subordinates, all of whom have added responsibilities, since the more important repairs are now under their control.” (6)
When W. August Fiedler replaced John J. Flanders in 1893, the board altered the role and pay structure of the head architect. Flanders had earned a percentage commission on design and repair projects, and was allowed to accept outside architectural commissions. In contrast, Fiedler received a flat annual salary, and could not accept outside work. School administrators described the changes to the position of head architect as “advantageous from a business standpoint and economical.” (7) Despite such claims, the board launched a detailed investigation in 1896, harshly criticizing Fiedler for spending too much funding on employees in his department. Fiedler responded to the charges by supplying detailed financial information showing that the board “had saved no less than $100,000 in eighteen months” under his management as compared to that of his predecessor. (8) Ironically, the investigation occurred at roughly the same time as the board praised Fiedler in its annual report.
Over the years, Yates School has been enlarged several times. The building’s first extension opened in 1939. A Board of Education staff architect, Albert Maley, designed a much larger, 50,000 square foot addition in 1961. Then known as the Yates Upper Grade Center, it included a gymnasium, library, science room, laboratories, music and art rooms, teachers’ lounge, and 17 new classrooms.
In the late 1990s, the Chicago Public Schools invested more than $3 million for additional improvements to the building. This work included a full exterior restoration project, a new roof, and upgraded mechanical and electrical systems. This thorough project included meticulously conserving the building’s details and replicating one of the two original terra cotta angels, which had been damaged beyond repair.
- Proceedings of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, July 17, 1895 – July 1, 1896, p. 488.
- “Defeat for the Trust,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 18, 1896, p. 13.
- Proceedings of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, July 17, 1895 – July 1, 1896, p. 269
- Bradley W. Rasch, The Governors of Illinois and the Mayors of Chicago, 2012, p. 16.
- Forty-Third Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 25, 1897, pp. 35-36.
- Forty-Second Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 26, 1896, pp. 160-61.
- “Find Fiedler a Tartar,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 6, 1896. P. 13.