Historic Structures

William H Brett Memorial Elementary School, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: January 5, 2018 Categories: Ohio School

Between 1900 and 1920, Cleveland's population more than doubled, from 381,768 to 796,841, reflecting both territorial growth and the continuing influx of foreign and rural immigrants seeking work. In response to an acute shortage of classrooms to house Cleveland's schoolchildren, the Cleveland Board of Education embarked on what was then the largest building program in its history. During the period 1912 and 1920, the board placed in commission, or was in process of erecting, 50 new school buildings or additions to existing buildings providing 819 additional classrooms.

In May 1918, declaring "a case of urgent necessity," the Board of Education authorized Frank G. Hogen, director of schools, to prepare plans and specifications and secure proposals for the construction of an 18-room building on the Royal and Ruple school site in the city's Collinwood neighborhood. Hogen prepared plans and obtained bids for three types of buildings: a one-story brick building, a three-story brick building, and a temporary wooden building. On July 24, 1918, the Board of Education authorized contracts for the erection of a one-story brick building. According to building permit records, work on the new school building commenced on August 18, 1918, and was completed the following June.

With Brett School, architect Walter R. Mccornack pioneered a new school type subsequently adopted for the construction of several other Cleveland elementary schools, including Lafayette, Andrew J. Rickoff, and Miles Standish schools. One story in height, the new school type featured classrooms arranged around large "play courts'' instead of corridors. The elimination of corridors and stairways, according to Mccornack, resulted in a space saving of 10 percent over the standard multistory school.

The new school on Royal Road originally was to have been called "Royal School." However, on September 23, 1918, the Board of Education adopted a resolution rescinding that name and naming it instead in honor of William Howard Brett (1846-1918). The distinguished librarian of the Cleveland Public Library, who developed that institution into a model for libraries nationwide, had been struck and killed by an intoxicated motorist the previous month. On Saturday evening, April 26, 1919, William H. Brett Memorial School was formally dedicated to Brett's memory. John G. White, president of the library board; Virginia D. Green, a member of the school board; and Allen Brett, son of the late librarian, were among those who spoke at the dedication.

On June 16, 1919, the Board of Education declared its intent to appropriate property for an addition to Brett School and on December 1, 1919, authorized the director of schools to prepare plans and specifications and advertise for proposals for the construction of "additions . . to provide for twelve standard classrooms." According to the building permit, work on the additions commenced on May 5, 1920, and was completed by the end of March 1921. Grading and landscaping were completed in mid-December.

Brett School provided instruction for grades kindergarten through 6 for children living in the Kipling Avenue area of the city's Collinwood neighborhood. Collinwood had become a destination for many Italians leaving the Big Italy neighborhood downtown as that area was substantially vacated to construct the railroad right of way for the new Cleveland Union Terminal. Even with the enlarged school building, continuing population growth required the addition of wooden "portable" classrooms. By 1920, five portables occupied the southeast schoolyard. In 1939, Brett School housed 1,176 children. But by 1950, six of its classrooms had been closed, reflecting declining enrollment. In 1978, as part of a court-ordered desegregation plan, the Cleveland Board of Education closed 26 schools. Among them was William H. Brett, which shut its doors for the last time on October 20, 1978.