Jose De Diego Elementary Community Academy
1313 North Claremont Avenue
Historical profile by Elizabeth A. Patterson
Located in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, Jose de Diego Elementary Community Academy is one of many schools across the country named for Puerto Rican statesman, jurist, and author Jose de Diego (1867-1918). Born in Puerto Rico and educated both there and in Spain, de Diego advocated for the political independence of his homeland from Spain and later from the United States. (1) Chicago’s Board of Education recognized his contributions as “Father of Puerto Rican Independence” by converting a historic school into Jose de Diego Community Academy in 1982. At that time, it was, “one of six elementary schools that integrated special education services with basic curriculum to assist students in achieving their highest potential.” (2)
Though the Jose de Diego school did not exist until the 1980s, the building and its site have a long and rather complex history. The first school building constructed here was the Northwest Division High School, built ninety years earlier. Northwest Division High School was the last in a series of divisional high schools opened by the Chicago Board of Education in the final decades of the 19th century. The board established these large regional schools to meet the needs of the growing ranks of students who continued their educations past the eighth grade. The divisional high schools offered not only traditional academic classes, but also a limited number of manual training classes aimed at educating teenagers for industrial jobs.
Northwest Division High School had originally opened in 1888 as a branch of the West Division High School in the nearby Columbus School. (Located on Augustus Street, between Hoyne and Leavitt Streets, that structure no longer exists.) The branch school’s student body had grown so rapidly that, by the end of that year, it had become an independent high school. In September of 1892, the new Northwest Division High School moved into its own, newly-constructed building “located on the northeast corner of Davis Street [now Claremont] and Potomac Avenue.” (3)
Designed by Board Architect John J. Flanders, the large, limestone-trimmed, brick building rose two and three stories above a raised basement. The primary facades on Claremont and Potomac featured a high “rock-face rubble” foundation, substantial rusticated stone entryways, red brick walls adorned with areas of diaper-patterned brick, and limestone lintels and stringcourses. Typical of Flanders’ work, the school exhibited a complicated roofline, with both engaged octagonal turrets and gabled dormers of various sizes. (4) Other examples of such features can be seen, for instance, on Flanders’ designs for Ray Elementary (built in 1894 as Hyde Park HS) and Ariel Community Academy and North Kenwood Oakland Charter Elementary (built in 1892 as Shakespeare Elementary).
Inside, the school had “16 classrooms, besides four recitation rooms, … also a large lecture room, room for classes in drawing and for chemical laboratory, and an assembly hall on the third floor, facing Potomac Avenue, about 83 x 116 feet.”(5)
At the north end of the building, occupying the basement and first floor levels, was a 40×86 foot gymnasium. Commonplace in public schools today, in the 1890s gymnasiums could be found in private schools and universities across the country. In Chicago, institutions such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the German immigrant Turnvereins featured gymnasiums, and by 1891, all Chicago public school children participated in a regular program of calisthenics and other physical activities as part of the curriculum. Still, as the Board of Education’s “Director of Physical Culture” boasted in 1892, the Northwest Division High School’s was not only Chicago’s first public school gymnasium, but also “the nation’s first gymnasium in a public school.”(6)
In the summer of 1898, as the student population continued to surge, the Board of Education awarded a contract for a six-room addition to Northwest Division High School, which the Superintendent hoped would “serve that district for two or three years.”(7) Board Architect Normand Patton placed the additional classroom space atop the northern, two-story portion of the building. Patton echoed Flanders’ original design, using patterned brick and limestone window surrounds to complete the third story. (8)
Patton’s respectful repetition of Flanders’ diaper-patterned brickwork was dramatically called into question, however, when Board Building and Grounds Committee member Joseph Downey accused Patton of using “rotten brick” that was “soft as soap” rather than the hydraulic red pressed brick favored by Downey and made by one of his cronies. (9) The Board brought Patton to trial for this and other acts of “insubordination,” and he lost his job in November of 1898, shortly before the addition opened. (For additional detail on this controversy, see Julia S. Bachrach’s profile on Pilsen Community Academy.)
In 1906, the Board of Education renamed Northwest Division High School in memory of Murry F. Tuley (1827-1905). A veteran of the Mexican War and an attorney, Tuley served over the course of his distinguished career as Attorney General and Territorial Legislator of New Mexico, Chicago Corporation Counsel and Alderman, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge. (10)
By the time Northwest Division became Tuley High School, the surrounding West Town community had long been a center for Polish culture, becoming one of the largest Polish-speaking communities outside of Poland. (11) A significant portion of these immigrants were Jewish. Many Russian Jews had also moved to the area, and, according to the Local Community Fact Book, by the early 1900s, about one quarter of Chicago’s Jewish population lived in the neighborhood. (12) As a result, Tuley High educated many notable Jewish students over the years, including prize-winning authors Saul Bellow and Nelson Algren and Chicago newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris. (13)
Though West Town’s population apparently peaked in 1910, the number of school children warranted a larger school by 1914, when Superintendent Ella Flagg Young called for a second addition to Tuley. (14) The Board finally decided to move forward with that addition (and many other school buildings) three years later. (15) Though the U.S. entry into World War I slowed the Board’s building program, the Tuley addition was under way as of June 30, 1918.
Designed by Board Architect Arthur Hussander, the large addition stood north of the original structure. Hussander’s addition, intended to house another 1,000 students, would “not only…provide much needed accommodations, but also…proper facilities for up-to-date modern high school buildings.” (16) The new building included 25 classrooms, a first floor assembly hall, two gymnasiums, and “laboratories, shops, swimming pool, etc.” (17)
Its exterior design closely followed the work of Flanders and Patton. Hussander’s addition rose three stories, and featured red patterned brick, limestone trim, and a gabled and turreted roof line.
The most obvious distinction between the 1918 addition and the earlier building was that the raised basement was of cut limestone rather than of rusticated ashlars.
Three decades later, on February 6, 1938, a deadly fire substantially destroyed the oldest section of Tuley High School. The fire caused an explosion in the third floor biology laboratory, sending a shower of bricks and limestone down on two Chicago fireman, one of whom, Thomas Vaid, died. Tuley’s 3,300 students returned to the undamaged north section of the school almost immediately, and the 1890s building was soon demolished. (18) Only a few architectural elements could be salvaged.
To replace the original building, Board Architect John Christensen designed a new three-story structure to the south of Hussander’s 1918 addition. Like its predecessors, Christensen’s addition rose three stories over a raised basement, with red brick walls and a limestone base and trim.
Built primarily with Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works funds during the lean times of the Depression, this new structure featured none of the ornamental details of the earlier buildings. (19) The addition, which could accommodate 980 students and included a new gymnasium, opened in September, 1939. (20)
Poles and Russian Jews remained the largest ethnic groups in the neighborhood surrounding Tuley High School until at least 1960. Only a decade later, though, Latinos comprised 39% of the area’s total population, and that proportion continued to grow. (21) It was in the midst of this demographic shift that calls came to replace the aging Tuley High School building, which was no longer deemed suitable to accommodate a growing student population that sought not only traditional academic programs, but also innovative trade programs that featured job training outside the classroom. (22)
Initial plans called for the new Tuley High School to be built several blocks to the west, near Division and California, in Humboldt Park. This was part of a broader new policy of the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Public Building Commission to build a number of public schools in established Chicago parks. The plan was a controversial one, and a group of Chicago residents filed suit to prevent this intrusion on Humboldt Park’s open space. In September, 1970, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that the city did indeed have the right to use this public land for school building. By that time, however, the Board of Education and the Public Building Commission had already chosen an alternate site for the new Tuley High. (23)
Located at Division and Western, only a block south of the existing high school and across a newly-created greenspace, the new high school opened in June of 1974. The unusual eight-story “mini high-rise” school was designed by the Office of Mies van der Rohe. (24) Rather than transferring the Tuley moniker, the Board of Education decided to name the new high school for Puerto Rican professional baseball player Roberto Clemente (1934-1972). (25)
After the high school students moved south across the new Clemente Park to the Roberto Clemente High School, 300 students in a bilingual program temporarily occupied the old Tuley building at 1313 North Claremont. (26) By the fall of 1975, the structure had become home to the Tuley Middle School, a role it served until 1982, when the board reopened it as the new Jose de Diego Community Academy. The Public Building Commission is in the process of renovating the nearly 100-year-old school building. (27)
- Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/diego.html; “Jose de Diego,” Who’s Who In America, Vol. I, 1897-1942 (Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company, 1942), p. 3233.
- Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.josedediego.org.
- Thirty-Eighth Annual Report for the Year Ending June 30, 1892, p. 99.
- “Northwest Division High School, Northwest corner Davis and Potomac Sts., Chicago, IL, J.J. Flanders, April 1891,” in the architecture collection of the Chicago History Museum; Proceedings of the Chicago Board of Education, January 22, 1891, p. 254.
- Thirty-Eighth Annual Report for the Year Ending June 30, 1892, pp. 99, 134-135.
- Ibid., pp. 237. In the early years, these gymnasiums were often built on the top floors of schools, though they were later placed lower in the buildings to provide better emergency egress for large groups of people.
- Forty-Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Education for the Year Ending June 24, 1898, pp. 77, 164.
- “Alterations & Additions to N.W. Division High School, S.E. Cor. Claremont and Potomac Aves., Normand S. Patton, Architect, Board of Education, Schiller Building, June 15, 1898” in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.
- “Downey Makes Sharp Retort,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 1, 1898; “Patton Faces Inquiry Board,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 4, 1898.
- “Tuley High School,” document in the Chicago Public Schools Archive.
- “Murray F. Tuley High School,” Chicago Public Schools Archive.
- Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area, 1990 (Chicago: The Chicago Fact Book Consortium, 1995), p. 92.
- Irving Cutler, The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), pp. 237-238; Retrieved October 20, 2014, from www.josedediego.org.
- Local Community Fact Book, p. 92; “Asks Schools at $20,000,000 Cost,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 17, 1914.
- “Trustees Start 27 New Schools and Additions,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 24, 1917.
- Sixty-Fourth Annual Report of the Chicago Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1918, p. 24.
- “Buildings Under Construction June 30, 1918,” Sixty-Fourth Annual Report of the Chicago Board of Education for the Year Ending June 30, 1918, p. 25.
- Fire and School Officials Open Inquiry in Blaze,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1938. It is possible that a small fragment of the original building — the southernmost turret and entrance — may remain, though this is not at all clear from the available evidence.
- “Tuley High,” document in the Chicago Public Schools Archive.
- “Pupils Ready for School Bells,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 3, 1939.
- Local Community Fact Book, p. 92.
- “Murray F. Tuley High School,” document in the Chicago Public School Archive.
- “Board Approves Sites for New Austin Schools,” Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1969; New Tuley High to be 9 Stories,” Chicago Tribune, August 4, 1970; “Court Rules Schools Can Take Parks,” Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1970.
- “New Tuley High to be 9 Stories,” Chicago Tribune, August 4, 1970; “Our City’s Exciting New Schools,” Chicago Daily News, September 30, 1970; “School Board to Weigh $23 Million Tuley Plan,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1970.
- “Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School” and “Murray F. Tuley High School,” documents in the Chicago Public School Archive.
- “School Bells Beckon Students Back to Textbooks,” Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1974.
- Retrieved October 20, 2014 from http://www.pbcchicago.com/content/projects/2013_school_investment_program.asp