Ravenswood Elementary School

Ravenswood School

Ravenswood School, 1915. Chicago Public Library, Sulzer Regional Library. http://digital.chipublib.org/cdm/ref/collection/rvw/id/2505

Ravenswood Elementary School
4332 North Paulina Street
Historical profile by Elizabeth A. Patterson

Ravenswood Elementary School has been a focal point of the surrounding community for nearly 150 years. In 1869, a group of real estate speculators known as the Ravenswood Land Company platted the Village of Ravenswood on farmland and wooded acreage north of Chicago and west of Lake Michigan and Graceland Cemetery. Residents of this new leafy suburb in Lakeview Township could soon commute to the city on the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Or, as the author of Chicago and Its Suburbs noted, they could make the “very pleasant” drive “through Lincoln Park, and along the Lake Shore drive to Green Bay road” by horse and carriage. (1)

Ravenswood’s founders almost immediately built a basic one-room schoolhouse at Hermitage and Wilson Avenues. By early 1873, though, the Village had enough well-to-do inhabitants to support a handsome Italianate schoolhouse with four classrooms. This two-story brick building, topped by a fanciful cupola, was built at the cost of $15,000. Known as the Sulzer Street School or Ravenswood School No. 1, the structure stood at the corner of Sulzer and Paulina Streets, facing Sulzer (now Montrose Avenue). (2)

Sulzer School

Sulzer Street School (on site of present Ravenswood School), 1873. Chicago Public Library, Sulzer Regional Library. http://digital.chipublib.org/cdm/ref/collection/rvw/id/2505.

In the mid-1880s, Ravenswood’s citizens battled fiercely over whether to add onto the existing Sulzer Street School, but an addition would not materialize until the following decade. (3) In 1889, the Sulzer Street School became part of the Chicago Public School system when the surrounding Village of Ravenswood and, indeed all of Lake View Township, was swept into Chicago as part of a great annexation of suburban communities during that time. Annexation brought more residents to Ravenswood, and by early 1891 the Chicago Board of Education purchased several lots south of the Sulzer Street School for an addition. (4) By June of 1892, the Board had signed construction contracts and rented space at the nearby Ravenswood Historical Society to accommodate the large overflow of students awaiting the building’s completion. (5)

Suzler School

Class photograph, Sulzer Street School, September 26, 1892. Courtesy of David Dahlgren.

The “addition” erected by the School Board was actually a free-standing building facing Paulina Avenue. Designed by Board Architect John J. Flanders, this buff “Racine” brick structure is the oldest extant part of the building today. It rises two and three stories over a high basement clad in rusticated limestone. (6)

Ravenswood Elementary School

Free-standing addition to Sulzer Street School, ca. 1900. Courtesy Bill Latoza.

A far more complex building than the boxy 1873 structure, Flanders’ school comprises three main masses running from front to back (west to east) on the lot. (A narrow, single-story utility block is hidden at the back of the building.)

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

The structure’s primary façade features a central portal set into the raised basement, above which rises a projecting three-sided bay. A wide terra cotta band visually separates the first and second stories. The school’s name spans the central portion of the bay, while foliate ornament extends beyond, stretching across the remainder of the bay as well as the entire facade. The other three facades lack the ornamentation of the Paulina Avenue side of the building, but feature the same large, six-over-six double-hung windows.

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

Flanders topped the building with a complex arrangement of crossed, hipped slate roofs. Above the main roof level is a large, hipped-roofed, recessed dormer. Above and behind the dormer is a still-higher hipped roof capped by a cupola echoing the one on the original Sulzer Street School. The new structure held twelve classrooms, several recitation rooms, and a small library. Bathrooms occupied two corners at the back of the basement, and an assembly hall sat at the very top of the building, tucked under the highest hipped roof.

Ravemswppd Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

Flanders’ handsome addition opened for classes in September of 1893, by which time the school had become known officially as the Ravenswood School. The work of constructing the building had in fact been overseen by Flanders’ successor, August Fiedler. (7)

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

During the following decades, the area surrounding the newly-constructed Ravenswood School continued to develop. Less affluent residents gained easier access to the neighborhood as electric street car lines supplanted horse cars on Montrose and other area streets in the 1890s, and the Ravenswood “L” line opened in 1907. (8)

By mid-1912, the Board of Education had decided to build another addition to the Ravenswood School. Arthur Hussander, then Acting Architect to the Board, prepared plans for this pair of two-story wings extending along Paulina Avenue on either side of the 1893 building. (9) (The wing to the north would take the place of the 1873 building, which would be demolished.)

Ravenswood Elementary School

Ravenswood School, ca. 1925. Archives, Chicago Board of Education.

Hussander’s additions to Ravenswood School differed from many of his other school designs, which were monumental in scale and Classical in style. His Ravenswood additions respectfully echoed the details of Flanders’ earlier structure, featuring brick with terra cotta detailing beneath a slate roof. In contrast to the original buff brick, Hussander selected red brick for the twin wings. To further tie the three masses together, Hussander reconfigured Flanders’ original columned entryway with a simpler portal to match those of the new wings. These additions extend backward onto the lot to envelope the older building. (10) The wings, however, have a much more horizontal feel than the earlier building. The yellowish terra cotta ornament, which dramatically stands out against the red brick, also accentuates the facades’ horizontality.

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

The additions alleviated overcrowding while providing state-of-the-art upgrades to Ravenswood School. The smaller south wing held new classrooms, including a kindergarten room, and girls’ bathrooms on each floor.

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

The more expansive north wing featured still more classrooms, boys’ bathrooms, and a spacious new first floor assembly hall. Only two stories tall, the additions followed the innovative precedent of Hussander’s predecessor, Dwight Perkins who eliminated the commonly-used raised basement. (11) Because Flanders’ 1893 structure included such a raised basement, Hussander had the challenge of incorporating many staircases to connect the various levels. (12)

Ravenswood Elementary School

Ravenswood School, ca. 1925. Courtesy Archives, Chicago Board of Education.

The 1912 wings featured “fireproof” design: the staircases were wide and constructed of metal, the wainscoting was of “cement,” and the theater curtain was fire resistant. Such safety features had become a pressing concern to Chicagoans after the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire disaster killed more than 500 people, many of them children. (13) To further address these fears, Hussander also made modifications to the earlier building. For example, he retrofitted the original wood staircases and wainscoting and repurposed the third floor assembly hall as a presumably less intensively-used gymnasium. (Typical of his time, Flanders had provided his third floor assembly hall with only a single, open staircase exit, and it therefore would not have been the safest place for a large number of people in an emergency.)

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

Over the decades, the population of Ravenswood School ebbed and flowed. By the late 1920s, though the neighborhood’s population had continued to grow, the number of students at Ravenswood School was down. More elementary schools had been built nearby, and the removal of seventh and eighth graders to the new Stockton Junior High (now Mary E. Courtenay Language Arts Center) at Montrose Avenue and Beacon Street left some Ravenswood School classrooms empty. Soon, however, they were filled by freshman from Lake View High School, which remained so overcrowded that it needed to operate in several branch schools until an addition was completed there in 1938. (14)

Ravenswood Elementary School

© 2014 Frederick J. Nachman

Today, Ravenswood School is filled with a 500 pre-school through 8th grade students, and has a particular focus on the fine and performing arts. (15) With its exquisite terra cotta ornament and its varied roof height, the historic building stands out from its low rise commercial and residential surroundings and remains a neighborhood icon.

Notes

  1. Everett Chamberlain, Chicago and Its Suburbs (Chicago: T. A. Hungerford & Co., 1874), p. 370; “Ravenswood,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago, p. 679.
  2. Chicago and Its Suburbs, p. 370; “Suburban News: Ravenswood,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 11, 1873; A.T. Andreas, History of Cook County, Illinois, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (Chicago: A.T. Andreas, Publisher, 1884), p. 710; John Drury, “Historic Chicago Sites,” Chicago Daily News.
  3. “Suburban: Excitement Over a Schoolhouse,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 7, 1883; “Education Enjoined: A Quarrel Over a Schoolhouse in Ravenswood,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 9, 1883.
  4. Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1891, pp. 68-69.
  5. Thirty-Eighth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1892, pp. 103-105.
  6. “Sulzer School to be erected on Paulina Street near Montrose Boulevard, Chicago, J.J. Flanders, Architect, September 1892,” plans, elevations, sections, heating plans in the collection of the Chicago History Museum. The addition was said to be “similar in character and description to the Addition to the Kershaw School” at 65th and South Lowe. Thirty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1893, p. 207. Though there is still a Kershaw School, the Flanders’ addition is no longer extant.
  7. Fortieth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 29, 1894. p. 30; Thirty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Education, p. 209.
  8. “Ravenswood,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; “Lincoln Square,” Chicago Historic Resources Survey: An Inventory of Architecturally and Historically Significant Structures (Chicago: Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, 1996), p. III-24; “Lincoln Square,” Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area, 1990. (Chicago: The Chicago Fact Book Consortium, 1994), p. 46.
  9. “Society, Meetings & Entertainments,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 1, 1912.
  10. “Sulzer School,…, J.J. Flanders, Architect, September 1892,” in the collection of the Chicago History Museum; “Additions and Alterations to Ravenswood School, Corner of Paulina Street and Montrose Avenue, A.F. Hussander, Acting Architect, Board of Education, Chicago, July 28, 1912,” in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.
  11. One of the reasons raised basements could be eliminated was that bathrooms no longer needed to be there. For further information on Perkins’ innovations regarding bathrooms in the Chicago schools, see the Lyman Trumbull and Bernhard Moos School profiles on this website.
  12. “Sulzer School,…, J.J. Flanders, Architect, September 1892,” in the collection of the Chicago History Museum; “Additions and Alterations to Ravenswood School, Corner of Paulina Street and Montrose Avenue, A.F. Hussander, Acting Architect, Board of Education, Chicago, July 28, 1912,” in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.
  13. “Fire in the Iroquois Theater Kills 571 and Injures 350 Persons” and “571 Bodies Found In Ruins; Iroquois Theater Fire Reaps An Awful Harvest,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 31, 1903.
  14. “Ravenswood’s Early Pupils Trudged Miles,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 3, 1929.
  15. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://ravenswoodelementary.org.
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