The Charles Warrington Earle School, hereafter referred to as the Earle School, at 6121 South Hermitage Avenue in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois was constructed by the Chicago Board of Education in 1897, and received a significant ten-room addition in 1900.
Chicago school board architect William August Fiedler designed the original three-story and basement 1897 block of the school in the Renaissance Revival Style, and later school board architect William Bryce Mundie designed the 1900 Renaissance Revival style addition on the south side of the original block.
In 1971, a two-story modular classroom building was constructed to the south of the 1897-1900 Earle School, and in 1974 an annex containinga gymnasium and a cafeteria was constructed to the east of the 1897-1900 Earle School. The 1974 gymnasium annex is connected to the 1897-1900 Earle School via an enclosed corridor, and the 1971 modular classroom building is interconnected with the 1974 gymnasium annex.
The 1897-1900 Earle School is a two and three-story school building above a slight sub-level ground floor (also called a raised basement), which connects with a rear single-story boiler house. The ground floor is connected to the upper floors by a stair directly off of the west entrance, as well as by stairwells at the north and south ends of the building.
There were no passenger or freight elevators in the building. The main upper floors are bisected from north to south by a wide double=loaded
corridor, which connects the stairwells at the north and south ends of the building. There are seven classrooms on the first, second, and third floors, and a classroom and a kindergarten on the ground floor.
The three stairways have deep landings and were completed into two different styles. The north and west stairs were completed in 1897 and feature plain, square cast iron newel posts with narrow balusters and plain stringers; decorative curved wrought iron brackets brace the railing. These stairs were produced by the Dearborn Foundry of Chicago, which was notable for having produced some of the most common cast iron architectural features in the Midwest. Their most prominent products were cast iron newel posts in a range of styles, which can be found on exterior porches across Chicago. The south stair was built in 1900, was likely also produced by the Dearborn Foundry, and is far more elaborate. It features richly detailed cast iron newel posts with Classical Revival style bell flower and egg and dart patterns. The steel railings are supported by a lattice of narrow woven steel strips and are anchored by decorative cast supports. Rows of anthemion grace the stringers, which are bordered by beads and acanthus leaves.
The ground floor is a raised basement level and historically held the school’s central heating and ventilations systems, along with playrooms, bathrooms, and a kindergarten room. The floor is accessed by all three at-grade entrances. Each entrance connects to a shallow vestibule with two inner pairs of original glazed and paneled wood doors surmounted by tall transoms. Elaborate woodwork with bullseye corner blocks frames the inner doorway. The ceiling of each vestibule is clad in painted, decorative wood paneling. Beyond each vestibule is a large stair hall with a stair to the first floor and a hall leading toward ground floor rooms.
The Earle School’s location and design were the result of changing laws and standards regarding childhood education during America’s nascent Progressive Era in the late-nineteenth century. From the 1880s through the early 1900s, the Chicago Public Schools system gained thousands of new students who either arrived with the continual influx of European immigrants or were required to attend school due to new compulsory education laws.
The construction of the Earle School in the Englewood neighborhood in south Chicago was necessitated by the influx of Swedish immigrants to
the area. The exterior and interior design of the Renaissance Revival style school building exemplifies the prevailing concepts of school architecture during the late-nineteenth century with its masonry construction, separated facilities for young boys and girls, kindergarten classroom, assembly room, administrative rooms, central double-loaded corridor design, wide corridors and stairwells for egress, interior heating system, cloak rooms, and classrooms with tall windows for ample light and ventilation.
The Earle School’s overall form and plan were derived from established school designs, which were developed by school boards across the county as the emerging Progressive Era of social reform in America
sought to establish standardized curriculums and designs for the creation of optimized educational environments.
The exterior Renaissance Revival style of the Earle School reflected the popular architectural ornamentation of the late Victorian era as well as communicated the elevated status of the school in American society as a foundation of self enrichment and engaged citizenry. The exterior design of the Earle School is well-preserved and includes a main entrance pavilion, decorative brickwork, limestone trim, terra cotta details, and a pressed metal cornice. The Earle School has excellent integrity, retaining its exterior ornamentation, interior 1900 layout and circulation pattern, and many historic finishes.
The Earle School continued in its original use as a public school until its closure in 2013.
The History of Public School Architecture in
Chicago up to 1895
Chicago’s first public schools were created following Chicago’s incorporation in 1837 with the founding of a managing
board appointed by the City Council. Several rudimentary frame schoolhouses were constructed in the 1840s, during which time the Illinois state legislature granted additional power to Chicago to purchase and manage school land, and to fund the construction of new schools though taxation. Tax funds allowed for the construction of Chicago’s first brick school, later known as the Dearborn School, which was completed in 1845 in the Greek Revival style (demolished in 1871). Dozens of new school buildings were completed through the 1860s as Chicago’s student population dramatically increased from fewer than 2,000 in 1849 to nearly 41,000 in the 1860s. Early school buildings, such as the Chicago High School, built in 1856 in the Gothic Revival Style (demolished in 1950), and the Haven School completed in the Italianate style in 1862 (demolished after it closed in 1974), followed conventional rectilinear floor plans with classrooms arranged around central hallways.
The design of schoolhouses generally followed standard formulas for size and layout in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. The intended purpose of the schoolhouse was primarily to contain classrooms where long-established methods of recitation and memorization could be performed. School buildings of this period were simple, either single room structures in rural areas and small towns, or larger multiple room buildings in cities. All schoolhouse designs featured a standard square or rectangular footprint.
While most school houses shared similar basic design principals, concerns about the healthfulness of enclosed indoor air and the benefits of improving the illumination of classrooms led to the publication of guides for the design of school buildings, including one published in 1848 by Henry Barnard, the commissioner of the public schools of Providence, Rhode Island. In his book School Architecture; or Contributions to the Improvement of School-houses in the United States, Barnard proposed a series of standards for the location of schools, the size and layout of classrooms, the size and position of windows for light, and most importantly the ventilation of buildings. Having toured schools of every type across country during his career, he asserted that existing buildings were largely unhealthful and uninspiring. School children, he felt, “should spend a large part of the most impressible period of their lives,” in school, in buildings that could positively shape their lives.2 Overall, “the style of the exterior should exhibit good, architectural proportion, and be calculated to inspire children and the community generally with respect for the object for which it is devoted.” Barnard’s
moral-driven enthusiasm for the purpose and design of public school buildings helped slowly propel changes nationwide in American school design.
In Chicago, the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city, including ten public school buildings. The loss of these buildings offered the opportunity to rebuild following new methods popularized by reformers such as Henry Barnard.
While student enrollment dropped initially, by 1874 nearly 48,000 students were enrolled in the city’s 39 school buildings. One of the new post-fire buildings was the King School, completed in 1874 by architects Johnston & Edelmann in the Italianate style (Harrison Street and Western Avenue, demolished). Its form followed the standard template with a
symmetrical square footprint and rooms set around a central corridor. While similar to previous schools in form, the King School featured many of the improvements to design, layout, ventilation, and lighting which had been advocated by educators for over a half century. The three-story, twelve-room King School featured tall windows and special ducted ventilation systems among other new features. In addition, as a precaution against fire, brick interior partitions were used instead of the previous standard of frame. The King School’s modern design and low construction cost made it the school board’s favored design. Nearly all public school houses built in Chicago through the 1890s followed this basic form.
It was also during the 1880s that the job of designing Chicago public school buildings became more defined. The role of school board architect had developed unofficially in the late 1870s with early Chicago architect Augustus Bauer, who designed over twenty new school buildings following the standard form established by Johnston & Edelmann. The Chicago Board of Education then officially created the position of architect to the Board in 1882 and appointed Bauer to the position. Bauer held the official position for less than a year before contract controversy ended his term. The Board elected three architects in succession, each serving brief terms of fewer than six months, before appointing architect John J. Flanders as architect.
Text excerpted from the Historic Preservation application prepared by MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC. All citations are included in the application.