When Carl Schurz High School was granted city landmark status in 1979, the report making the case for the designation listed other architecturally significant Chicago schools designed by the North Side edifice’s noted architect, Dwight Perkins.
The list included the now-former Trumbull Elementary in Andersonville, Cleveland Elementary in the Irving Park community and others designed by Perkins when he was chief public school architect from 1905 to 1910.
Absent from that roll call, however, was Schurz’s twin, James H. Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St. In addition to being omitted from the designation report, the school — designed by Perkins and opening the same day as Schurz — has never been landmarked by the city.
Bowen alum Marc Edelstein wants to change that. The 1968 graduate began circulating an online petition recently in a bid to seek enough popular support to nudge city officials to finally landmark the 112-year-old South Chicago neighborhood school.
“Architecturally, it’s a gem,” Edelstein told us.
He’s right. And it’s high time to correct the 40-year-old oversight.
Unique school for its day
Edelstein is vice president of the Bowen High School Alumni Association. He said the group’s main purpose is awarding scholarships to the schools’ deserving seniors, but Edelstein began championing for Bowen to have landmark status five years ago.
“The petition is our most recent attempt to get greater public support and hopefully make an impact on the landmarking decision-makers,” Edelstein said.
The change.org petition is getting some attention, picking up close to 700 signatures so far.
“As a landmark, the building will be preserved and maintained, which will help the economy of the hard-working South Chicago neighborhood residents,” said one signer.
“Preserving SE side treasures is vital to the preservation of the community!” wrote another.
Meanwhile, the brick and terra-cotta school building has held up nicely over the past century.
“[Its] bold Mission, Prairie, and Chicago School elements speak to Dwight Perkins’ gifts,” Edelstein said. “His use of natural lighting and sophisticated hygiene systems — imagine, indoor bathrooms on every floor — were unique for the time.”
Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., was designed with the same features and has been rightfully lauded for them. In addition to being a city landmark, Schurz has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987.
Bowen is rated “orange,” which is second-place behind the top rated “red” designation in the city’s Chicago Historic Resources Survey of buildings built before 1940. Schurz is rated red.
The classification means Bowen is among buildings that “possess some architectural feature or historical association that made them potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.”
That’s a potential good sign, because proposed landmarks are often selected from the 9,600 orange-rated buildings in the survey.
Worthy of landmark consideration
It’s easy to see why the school system and the Public Building Commission would be reticent about landmarking active educational facilities.
A designation would make it harder to demolish or drastically alter the edifices, once designated. And materials used to repair school buildings would come before the city’s landmark staff for approval.
But many of the school buildings, particularly the pre-World War II ones, are impressive temples to education that are often among the architectural standouts in a neighborhood — and worthy of recognition.
One example is Lindblom Math & Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave., which was given landmark status in 2010 after a push from alumni. The 103-year-old brick and limestone school in West Englewood still shines.
Meanwhile, a group of Chicago Vocational High School grads hasn’t yet been able to win a landmark designation for the mammoth Art Deco/Art Moderne facility, 2100 E. 87th — although it certainly deserves it.
A city planning department spokesperson says the agency’s historic preservation staff believes Bowen and Chicago Vocational would meet landmark criteria. But there’s no word on when — or even if — the buildings would be brought before the landmarks commission for approval.
CVS is a candidate for the National Register, at least. The nomination awaits National Park Service approval.
Edelstein wants Bowen listed there as well.
Classic public schools are among the finest buildings in Chicago, yet they are unrecognized in a city that’s rightfully proud of, if not downright boastful about, its architecture.
It’s time to landmark Bowen and bring more architecturally significant school buildings into the fold.
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