Building Description Froebel School, Gary Indiana

The retreat of the Great Lakes over time has left a unique ecosystem at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Gently rolling sand dunes with scrub growth were typical when U.S. Steel chose this site for the construction of Gary, Indiana in 1906. The dunes were leveled and a grid of wide streets imposed. Residents planted street trees in the sandy soil and within ten years, the immediate environment of Gary became intensely developed.

Froebel School occupies four square blocks of land bound by W. 13th Ave., W. 15th Ave., Madison, and Monroe Streets in downtown Gary, Indiana. The site is about six blocks south and four blocks west of the Central Business District of Gary, the 300 to 800 blocks of Broadway, Massachusetts, and Washington Streets. Currently and historically this part of Gary is urban, with blocks of single-family housing dating from 1909 to 1930, industries to the north on the lake's edge, and large apartment blocks on W. 5th Avenue. A four-square-block new development of apartments stands immediately across Madison Street. Originally, according to historic photographs, the school sat on level, sandy terrain with no landscaping of any kind.

The site of the school is now an oasis in this urban environment, in essence constituting a public park with the school set toward the center of the level site, surrounded by mature trees and lawn. Sidewalks cut diagonally across the grounds in gentle arcs, in addition to the axial main walk to the front steps. While at ground level, viewers might think that the paths are casual and meandering, in fact, in plan, the paths are symmetrically placed. A small grid of concrete walks forming two squares fills a portion of the west lawn; this is either where the school board installed two portable schoolrooms at some point after 1945, or it could have been a planting bed. Neither portable remains, Historic plans reveal that the Gary School Board developed an elaborate landscape plan for Froebel and implemented it shortly after construction of the main building. The walks and mature trees are the surviving elements; two shallow depressions in the front lawn on either side of the axial front steps walk were ponds before school officials filled them in, in about 1950. The overall impression of the school and its grounds is of college campus quadrangles of the era.

The Gary School District commissioned the main part of the school in 1911, added the west shop wing in 1920 and the east shop wing in 1922. Indoor playrooms connected the wings to the main block in 1925. This nomination includes three resources: the school with all additions, the boiler/shop building, and the site of the school. Significant site elements include the walkway patterns, remnants of the pools, the brick alley between the boiler and the school, and the athletic field.

School Building

Froebel School is a two-story plus raised basement-level building with brick and limestone exterior walls, and a flat roof masked by a parapet. The main bulk of the school is 241'9" across and 149' deep on the visible portion of the east and west elevations. Architect William Ittner used a combination of construction techniques for Froebel School. Exterior walls of the 1911 building appear to be load-bearing brick, floors in the 1911 building appear to be concrete with I-beams for additional support. Roofs have wooden structural members for the most part. The east and west shop wings have hollow tile walls with brick veneer. The building is vacant and deteriorated. Within the last two years, the Gary School Corporation has removed asbestos and boarded the building shut with plywood. In the process of boarding the building, all existing windows, dating to c. 1960, were removed entirely except for vertical aluminum mullions.

The W. 15th Street elevation is the main front of the building. This elevation is a classic "dumbbell" school design with five sections: a wide central entry pavilion, recessed flanking wings, and forward projecting end cap sections. In footprint, the entire school forms a symmetrical modified "E" shape, with the open side facing north, with each outer end of the "E" appended by perpendicular gabled shop wings running east-west on each side of the main block. Various sections connect the tines of the "E" as well. The brick veneer of the walls reaches to grade with no different material marking the foundation. The ground floor walls project forward about three inches and have a stone drip mold or water table cap. Brick texture plays a significant role in the exterior design. The ground floor walls are Flemish bond, the upper floors are a Flemish bond variant, alternating three stretchers to one header in each course, so that the headers align vertically. The parapet area is laid with dark stretchers and headers forming a diaper work pattern. Stonework on the building is limestone, chiseled with fine parallel grooves.

The entrance section projects forward roughly eight feet, is about fifty-four feet across, and has a broad set of concrete steps with crow-stepped brick retaining walls accessing it. This section is three bays wide; however the central bay is wider, additionally, the central oriel bay is faced in dressed limestone veneer and is semi-hexagonal in shape. The central pavilion section is also about two feet taller than the rest of this elevation.

The openings on this central bay are offset vertically one-half story compared to the side (classroom) wings, since this central bay serves as a stair tower. On the ground floor, the twenty-four-foot wide bay is carried on two stone Tuscan columns with a portion of entablature. Matching pilasters stand where the bay meets the wall surface. The front doors are c.1960 metal replacements with slender vertical lights. Painted boards now cover the doors, and c.1960 stone veneer has replaced the transoms. Originally, a vertical pane transom filled part of the opening. Above the doors on the first floor, is a series of square relief panels, divided by mullions, four on the front and one on each angled side. The panels have scroll-edged margins, a pointed raised center panel, and a portrait bust of a child at the top center margin. Each child is unique, and may represent different historical time periods. An angled belt course runs atop the relief panels. Above this, stone mullions divide off the windows into three rows.

Originally, the windows would have been wood double-hung units; in c.1960, the school board replaced all windows in the building with aluminum framed horizontal units, as many as seven windows stacked to fit where one one-over-one sash would have been. Currently, virtually no exterior windows are in place, only the aluminum dividers. On the bay, originally there would have been four nine-paned units in two rows, with a row of square windows at the top. The windows on the bays appear to have been fixed sash or casements.

A stone drip mold/cornice runs atop the window lintels and across the entire elevation. At each angle of the bay, small gargoyles (bosses or corbels, not functional downspouts) project. The dressed stone continues above the stringcourse; a rectangular relief panel with cartouche surrounding an owl is centered in the semi-hexagonal bay front. There is a flat coping stone atop the parapet. A final touch to the central bay, the stone veneer tooths into the flanking wings with vertical run of "long and short" work. One window flanks either side of the entrance, at the front stair landing level, and at the first and second levels. These windows have header sills and lintels. A stone drip mold runs just above the ground floor lintels, and across the entire elevation. The comers of the rectangular entrance pavilion are quoined, and its parapet (except the center stone veneered bay) has brick diaper work. The projecting sides of the central section have narrow windows on the first and second levels.

The 67' 6" long recessed flanking wings have three major divisions; wide window bay/single window/wide window bay. These windows have header lintels and sills. On the ground floor, on either side of the projecting central entry section, are small stone-faced one-story, flat-roofed sections. These project to a point even with the central section, The stone veneering is c.1960. Originally, there were small greenhouses in these locations. The present stone-faced rooms are either drastic alterations of the greenhouses, or, they replaced the greenhouses. A window is beside it, then, on the ground floor is a larger horizontal run of windows. Sill level is at grade. On the upper floors, there are large window bays over the greenhouse area, then a single window aligning with the ones of the ground floor, then, another tall window bay. Originally, each of the larger window groupings held five six-over-nine double hung sash, and the single windows had paired multi-paned casements.

The end caps of the front elevation design are forward-projecting sections terminated with a full-height semi-hexagonal wall facing the street. Each side projects about eight feet forward, plus the faceted bay, another eight and half feet. The ground floor openings are shorter and have sills at grade. There are three major vertical window divisions on the broader front face of the end wall, the other flanks have two window divisions. These again correspond roughly to the original placement of the original double-hung sash. The drip mold belt and projecting foundation wall dividing the ground and first floors continues around the end sections. Above this, on the front face of the first floor, is a dressed stone-framed triple window group with stone mullions and transom bar defining what were originally three windows with transoms. Historic photos seem to show that these windows were fixed, nine pane in the larger openings and six pane in the square openings. A similar window group is on the second floor, its lintel placed just under the continuous drip mold/cornice. All corners of the end bay section have dressed stone long and short work or quoining extending from the ground floor drip mold to the coping stone of the parapet. The flanks of the semi-hexagonal walls have one window opening on each level, with the upper single openings treated identically to the front ones. The front parapet wall of each end bay has a blind roundel with header oculus course and basketweave infill.

The sides of the front block of the building have much the same architectural treatment of the classroom bays of the front elevation, including the drip molds, cornices, and diaper work parapet. From the front semi-hexagonal bay back, there is a large window opening on each floor, then, a narrower bay with a stone enframed side entrance at grade, and aligning smaller windows on the first and second floors. A bay with smaller windows that align on each floor is next to the north. As on the front, the larger openings had six-over-nine windows, those over the entrance had paired six-over-nine, and the smallest openings had paired multi-paned casements. The side entries are well-detailed. Each is Jacobethan or Elizabethan in spirit, with paneled plinth Roman Doric pilasters supporting a full entablature. Triglyphs inset with strapwork are aligned over each pilaster and a plaque in the frieze is engraved "FROEBEL SCHOOL" in a typeface resembling Times Roman. A cornice tops this, and an acanthus-decorated scrolled pediment with central roundel sits atop the cornice. A carved mask face is below the roundel, and pyramidal finials flank the scroll pediment. The steel doors are c.1960, and stone veneering has replaced the original vertical paned transom.

North of the entries on either side of the school, the plane of the side elevations steps back three feet and a run of classroom bays with large openings typical of the front classroom wings begins. There are two large openings on each floor, then, to the north, a smaller opening, these housed rows of double-hung and paired casements respectively. The elevation once again jogs outward three feet for the final large window opening to the north, this time so that the plane of these final bays matches the first section at the south end of these elevations.

A small one-story 1925 section adjoins the ends of both the cast and west elevations. These rectangular block runs east-west and connect across the width of the long outside sections of the school. They served as an enclosed play area. Their south faces have three window openings with brick header lintels and sills, and there is a forward-projecting double-door entry with cast concrete hood at the south-facing junction of the various wings.

Extending out from either side of the school at this point are two large, one-story plus raised basement, side-gabled shop class wings. The school board added the west shop in 1920, the east shop followed in 1922 using the same plans and elevations. One shop wing extends east, the other on the other side of the school echoes it to the west. The one-story 1925 connector nearly makes the wings appear to be free-standing buildings, however, the 1925 additions included a roughly ten-foot wide enclosure across the front of the east shop wing, extending to the center pavilion. This narrow addition is lacking on the west wing, or, was removed or altered; there is a low brick wall in its place. The shop wings are brick with stone detailing, like the rest of the school. The structure is hollow core terra cotta tile.

Each wing is 126' 6" long and 36' wide. The center bay of the south (main) elevation is a rectangular, flat roof, projecting section with a stone-faced semi-hexagonal projecting bay. The center bay has paired window openings divided by a stone mullion on the ground floor, within the semi-hexagonal section. Two relief panels fill the space between levels. On the east shop, the panels are cartouches set with a square, on the west shop, the panels are scroll-edged with a diamond overlaying a square in the center. As the stone facing extends up the bay, paired windows and a transom divided by a stone cross mullion fill the next level, and above that a drip mold defines the parapet area. Stone bas-relief triptychs decorate the east and west shop center bay parapets. The west shop has linenfold panels flanking a half-length bespectacled man wearing a cap and gown while reading a book. The east shop parapet has a classical oil lamp of knowledge flanked by scroll-wrapped torches. The dressed stone ashlar of the faceted bay becomes long and short work or quoining at its front corners and at the junction of the bay and the rest of the central rectangular projection, with a strip of brick in between. Additionally, the corners of the rectangular pavilion are brick quoined, The drip mold does not extend past the edge of the faceted bay.

In the bays flanking the entrance section on each shop wing, the number of openings varies slightly on the east and west wings. The east wing has four bays of fenestration on the wall section extending away from the school. From the center out, there is a small window opening, an intermediate-level opening, then two bays of large window openings. The ground floor has one small rectangular opening, a blank space, then two bays that align with the ground floor bays. The windows are close up under the slightly projecting eaves on the main floor, on the ground floor, they extend to grade as on the main block of the school. The ground floor of the east shop wing that adjoins to the 1925 addition has four large openings, as previously described. The original second floor of the east wing south face is visible above this enclosure and has, from the center of the building out, a double window opening, a small, high-set single opening, and then two large openings.

The west shop wing south elevation, east half, has an identical arrangement to the east half of the east shop wing. The west half has, on the ground floor from center of building out, a small opening, and then two large openings. The upper floor above it has three nearly equal large openings. All sills on the shop wing are cast concrete or stone, lintels are header brick.

For each shop wing, the side-gabled roof is covered in deteriorated slate, with exposed, scroll-tailed rafters. There are remanents of copper gutters. The end walls have a raking parapet as the brick reaches above the roofline and is capped in plain dressed stones. The parapeted treatment wraps around to the north and south about three feet at each corner (with a flat parapet), clipping off the eaves. The west unit of the pair of wings has a square, short brick chimney behind the first bay west of center. The other east unit has no chimney.

The street-facing end walls of these east and west shop class wings has a stone veneered foundation, and single large window openings centered on the ground and main floors. Each has soldier course flat arch lintel. The cast shop wing window openings are wider than those of the west wing. At the top of the gable, each end has a long-and-short work stone surrounded slit vent, with a header course extending from the window's top to the gable edge. The stone coping has stone "mouse teeth" at the bottom and aligning with the header course.

The north faces of the shop class units have a much more informal arrangement of openings. The east shop class building has seven openings, with the first from the cast being an at-grade former doorway. The main level above it has only six, however, the outer placed two openings align with those below, while the center ones are wider and do not align with bays below. Lintels over the east shop class windows, north elevation, are soldier brick.

On the west shop class building, the north elevation has seven openings on the ground floor, all former windows. The arrangement appears to be nearly symmetrical: two large openings / one small / one large / one small / two large. The main floor above repeats the pattern. Sills are stone or concrete, but lintels are stretcher brick.

The rear of Froebel School is a complex amalgamation of the outward-projecting tines of the "E" plan, the rear of the east and west projecting units, and connecting sections. Decorative stonework or moldings are minimal or non-existent.

The outward or east and west elevations of the flanks of the original 1911 main block, as they continue northward, have a large bank of windows on their short (north) side, set toward the inside corner, and at an intermediate level, lighting a stairway. The diaper work of the parapet distinguishes these end walls. The previously mentioned 1925 indoor play courts that connect to the east and west shop units have three large window bays with sills at grade, and doorways at either corner.

Next, filling in the tines of the "E", are two, two-story gabled sections. These are gymnasia and are original to the 1911 building. In plan, these sections are placed so that their north gable end walls are flush with the one-story 1925 connectors, but, there is a square light well behind them, allowing light and air to the main block sections of the school. Originally, the gyms were segregated, the west one for boys, the east for girls. Though these sections are gables, each has a short parapet, raked on the end walls to follow the gable. The north face of each gym has high set windows, three symmetrically placed triple window groups, each window bank reaching about one story in height. There are two sets of similar windows on the exposed face of the cast and west walls of the two identical gyms. The roofline of each gym has two large sheet metal cylindrical ventilators on the ridge.

A square, three-story brick flat-roofed section stands between the gymnasia. This section is the back of the auditorium, and though original to the 1911 building, a story was added on top of the rear (north-facing) portion in 1927. Its blank east and west walls are parapeted, and the north wall is punctured by three sets of triple windows on each story. There is a large, three and half story tall square brick chimney at the northwest corner of this section. At some point, the boiler function was moved to the basement of this section; previously, it had been in the boiler/shop building behind the school.


The interior of Froebel School is deteriorated. The roof has partially collapsed in some locations, and the inner core of the building has no remaining windows to block the elements. The interior retains many original characteristics, including its overall plan, room configurations, transoms, stairways, and some finishes. The overall plan of the school is that of a U-shaped corridor enclosing central public areas, with most classrooms on the perimeter. Stairs are placed at the center bottom of the "U" and at the ends of the stems.

Entering by the front (south) doors, a grand staircase rises to the main east-west corridor. One passes through an original multi-paned wood curtain wall with multi-paned doors and transoms (damaged, but largely intact). The stairs have terrazzo treads, gray marble risers, and smooth plaster balustrade with a wooden cap. A middle balustrade with steel tapered newels and wood railing survives as well, The newels at the first floor are cylindrical with a circular cap. A triple-segmental arch arcade stands where the east-west corridors meet the main stairs on each floor. There is also an intermediate-level office area between the first and second floors, with a wooden framed lattice supporting multi-paned glazing.

Corridors are lined with tan glazed brick wainscoting, and have terrazzo floors. Ceiling plaster is metal lath in most corridors, much of it is detached and all plaster is damaged or nearly destroyed. Plaster-encased I-beams run perpendicular to the corridor along the ceiling. Openings into classrooms were plain radius-edged and segmental arched. Transoms are rectangular, six-light units with a wood casing filling the curve of the arch; these are original and many survive. Most classroom doors were replaced with hollow core light-colored wood doors. All classrooms retain their original room size, and many retain chalkboards and wooden, glass-fronted bookcases, despite the amount of fallen plaster and other miscellaneous debris in them. Window openings had no surrounds, only plaster reveals, and no windows exist. It appears that partitions that internally divided closets between classrooms were removed at some point.

Stairs at the north ends of the U-shaped corridor are detailed similarly to the main stairs. Each has terrazzo treads, marble risers and a solid masonry with plaster railing and simple stained wood cap.

The first floor of the central core contains an auditorium. Because the flanking rooms do not rise to this story, banks of windows on the east and west could flood the interior with light and air. All these windows are gone, leaving only the rough openings. The seating has been removed or has deteriorated. The basic form of the auditorium, including sloped concrete floor, and a reinforced concrete balcony, are intact. The stage floor and plaster proscenium arch with radius corners and raised surround remain in place.

The gymnasium spaces include a pool and locker room at ground level. Locker room spaces include gray marble shower and toilet stalls. The pool is "bathing pool" style, with the most shallow end being five feet deep and increasing to about twelve feet at the south end. Each pool is lined with white glazed tile with a rounded edge around the pool. The deep end pool side has remnants of the diving board; metal piping joined to anchor and support the missing board. Metal pipe railing surrounds the pool edge. On the ground floor, between the gyms, several old boilers are still in place under the auditorium.

The floor above the pool was the gym. Open steel spiral stairs access each gym from inside each respective locker room, Because the gym roofs have skylights, water infiltration has severely deteriorated the wooden basketball floor, which has collapsed in at the center. In 1919, the school board added a space-saving novelty to the gym interior, a suspended oval running track, hanging one story above the basketball play level around the perimeter of each gym. Iron rods on the inside edge and steel arms underneath support the tracks. Each gym's gable roof is carried on steel trusses and the roof deck is wooden.

The shop wings of 1920 and 1922 have much of the same simple character of the 1911 school building. The west shop has two large rooms on the ground floor, originally, a general metal working shop and machine shop, while the second floor had a machine shop. The east shop building had a playroom, wood shop, and electric working room on the first floor and drafting, sewing, and additional classrooms on the second story.

The 1925 connecting wings were indoor play areas and had painted brick walls and large I-beams supporting the roof. It is probable that the I-beams and roof deck are replacements from more recent decades, since older plans for the school show skylights in this area.

Boiler Building/North Shop

About thirty feet north of Froebel School stands a concrete frame brick boiler and shop building. A brick alley divides the school and boiler. The center portion of the building dates from about 1920, while the flanking lower wings were added in 1938 as additional metal working shops. The center line of this three-part building aligns with the main axis of symmetry of the school. The main section is two stories high, with squat one-story sections on the east and west. The center main section is roughly square, the flanking sections are rectangular in plan. Five brick pilaster strips with rounded stone caps divide the wall surface into bays, with high-set banks of openings on the north. Openings have been infilled with brick. The upper flanks of the central portion reveal the reinforced concrete frame. The flanking one-story wings are actually set slightly below grade, and have a projecting concrete foundation. Each wing has a projecting end cap section which originally had doors facing toward the school, while the north projecting ends had windows. These projections have Art Moderne-style rounded "pilasters" supporting a tall frieze that blends with the supports. On the south face, the frieze panels have recessed Moderne-style stencil letters reading "SHOPS," while on the north face, the frieze panels have a raised profile of a scale or some type of metal measuring device. Concrete banding runs along the sides of the shop additions. All openings are either boarded shut or were bricked over. A large, roughly four-story high brick chimney rises from a base just outside the north wall of the center of the center section.

The interior of the boiler/shop building is functional with no decorative finishes. Metal working shops flanked the central boiler area.

Athletic Field

Gary school officials planned the grounds of Froebel School to accommodate everything young working-class children needed for a full education. A state-of-the-art field for track, American football, baseball, and other athletics still remains in place behind the school, though its cinder-covered running track is fast becoming overgrown. Baseball cages remain at the northwest and southeast corners.