Chicago’s public schools have remarkable architectural and social histories that have often been overlooked. Over the course of more than a century, many of the city’s most significant architects produced school buildings in a wide range of architectural styles, often reflecting the educational innovations of their time. In the mid 2000s, two historians, Julia S. Bachrach and Elizabeth A. Patterson, and preservation architect Bill Latoza began documenting Chicago’s historic schools. The Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts provided support to this project, which includes photography by James Iska and Brooke Collins. Since 2012 the team has also been collaborating with local historian and blogger Frances O’Cherony Archer to create the Chicago Historic Schools website.
This subject is especially timely today. In recent years, Chicagoans have increasingly focused on issues related to reforming and improving the city’s public school system. Citizens are participating in local school councils and working with teachers and school administrators to improve performance and enhance the quality of education throughout the vast Chicago Public School system. Since 1996, over $2.5 billion dollars have been invested in restoring, repairing, and upgrading older school buildings and constructing new ones. Innovative projects and partnerships have also transformed bare schoolyards into lush landscapes with athletic fields, playgrounds, and gardens.
Many neighborhoods in Chicago are facing dramatic change as populations dwindle, leaving some schools under utilized. In 2013, fifty Chicago public schools were shuttered in the nation’s largest school closing initiative. Discussions are underway to determine the fate of these empty buildings.
A group of passionate historians and architects produced this website; they are not affiliated with Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago Historic Schools website team
Julia S. Bachrach is a historian and preservationist who writes extensively on Chicago’s public buildings, landscapes and artworks. She is the author of The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks, and co-author of Inspired by Nature: The Garfield Park Conservatory and Chicago’s West Side, and The Sounds of the Lakefront: A Celebration of the Grant Park Music Festival. She has also contributed to the Oxford Companion to the Garden, Midwestern Landscape Architecture, the AIA Guide to Chicago, The Encyclopedia of Chicago, and Midstream: The Chicago River, 1999 – 2010. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Elizabeth A. Patterson has researched and written about a wide range of historical and architectural topics as an independent researcher and historic preservation consultant. She has contributed to nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and submittals to the Historic American Building Survey and Historic American Engineering Record. Her clients have included non-profit organizations, government agencies, preservation-related businesses, and private individuals. She is the co-author of Accessible Faith: A Technical Guide for Accessibility in Houses of Worship. She also contributed to The Encyclopedia of Chicago.
Bill Latoza is a registered architect and founding principal in the firm of BauerLatoza Studio. He has led the preservation of some of nation’s most venerated landmarks. He pioneered innovative restoration techniques for over 250 projects including historic schools, parks, monuments, and sculptures as well as national historic sites and military forts. In 1994, the BauerLatoza Studio began to document the extant schools in Chicago as an internal research project for the firm. After performing a physical and photographic survey of 575 schools, it became apparent that a methodology for saving these schools needed to be developed. Soliciting the help of the Chicago Department of Planning, Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and the Chicago AIA, BauerLatoza Studio developed a planning strategy for identifying and protecting historic schools. This initiative was presented to the Chicago Public School Board in 1996 and was immediately enacted. As part of the Managing Architect Team for the Chicago Public Schools Capital Improvement Project, BauerLatoza Studio was placed in charge of the historic schools initiative. While working on school restoration projects, Bill Latoza acquired a large collection of archival photographs of historic Chicago schools—some of which are included in this website.
Brooke Collins is a photographer based in Chicago. For the past five years Brooke has been the official photographer for Chicago’s Mayor.
Her photographs have been featured in a variety of local and national media outlets, including O magazine, Businessweek, Chicago Magazine and on the Huffington Post. She has participated in many gallery showings, most notably at the Museum of Contemporary Art entitled The Journey- The Next 100 Years, an exhibition by the Chicago Alliance of African-American Photographers, encompassing all aspects of daily life of the African-American communities of the Chicago area.
James Iska has been photographing the urban scene for over thirty years. After graduating from the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1980, Iska’s work has revolved around on architecture from the classic to the vernacular, and its integral role in defining the city. He collaborated with author and historian Francis Morrone on a series of architectural guidebooks of New York City, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn in the 1990s. Iska also produced contemporary photography for the first and second editions of The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks by Julia S. Bachrach. He is currently the author of the blog “In and About the City.”
Frances O’Cherony Archer manages content and maintains the website for Chicago Historic Schools. In addition to working as a strategist with the design consultancy Massive Change Network, Frances explores the history of North Park and Albany Park on her blog, Me & My Shadow: A Life in Chicago. Frances also gives talks about one of the area’s major landmarks, the former Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, and is a volunteer tour guide at North Park Village Nature Center, the former site of Sanitarium. She has written for the Northwest Chicago Historical Society newsletter.
Frederick J. Nachman is a Chicago corporate communications/investor relations consultant and photography enthusiast. During his communications career, in which he counseled managements of Fortune 500 companies as well as developing small-cap companies, Nachman won awards for several annual reports as well as overall programming. He was co-founder of a public relations agency that became one of the city’s ten largest within three years. His photography has been featured in publications including Sacred Places and on websites Out of Chicago, Gapers Block, Curbed Chicago and for GQ, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Jack Daniels and Museum on Eldridge Street. He is the author of There Used to be a Synagogue Here: Former Chicago Temples, a selection from his 350 photographs of these Chicago buildings.