Grant School, St. Louis Missouri

Date added: September 16, 2023 Categories: Missouri School
View of the building from the Southeast (2004)

Grant School, 3009 Pennsylvania Ave., in St. Louis, Missouri is an example of the changing neighborhood school in response to improvements in educational an instructional philosophy at the end of the 19th century from the uniformity of spaces for economy to spaces suited to the age and size of the students. The School was an early work of A. H. Kirchner with the 1901 additions that were the early work of William B. Ittner. Kirchner began the process of improving classrooms under the old patronage system for construction after the first attempt at reform within the St. Louis City school system. It replaced a smaller and poorly planned building that was once identified as the smallest in the system. Kirchner, during his term as School Architect, addressed the need for additional light and air in school buildings with the use of flue vents, interior windows, and large skylights over the stairs. Ittner was appointed the first Commissioner of School Buildings for the St. Louis School District after passage of reform legislation by the state and the mandated improvements in health and safety considerations of public school buildings in the City of St. Louis. Ittner added a large kindergarten room and altered the classrooms of the first floor to accommodate the smaller size of the three primary grades while the older children were taught in the upper floors. Grant School was one of the last of the 19th-century schools to receive a large addition since the School District mandated all schools newly constructed were to meet new fire codes. Schools of fireproof construction of 18 classrooms became the norm.

The importance of the organizational structure of a school system is summarized in this statement from the first paragraph of St. Louis Missouri Preservation Plan's historic context for education: "What, where, and how students learn is a function of the organization of the school system, prevailing theories about learning, local political pressures, and, of course, financial realities." Like many school systems, the first St. Louis school board in 1833 embraced the Lancasterian, or monitorial school model as the viable option for St. Louis. By the 1870's, William Torrey Harris built St. Louis Public Schools into a national model combining graded classrooms, systematic teaching methods, strong discipline, and basic proficiencies. He authorized Susan Blow to create the City's first kindergarten in 1875. By 1900, over 200,000 St. Louis children attended kindergartens.

Traditional thinking held that almost any room could be transformed into a classroom, and St. Louis rented many spaces for classrooms. But by the end of the 19th century, educational thinking held that construction, design, and floor plan reflected the priorities of the school and its effectiveness as a place for learning.

Growth of the City added to the burden of the St. Louis School system. The influx of immigrants and growth of the City raised the need for additional classrooms. The City began to grow out as transportation systems developed. Horse-drawn vehicles were replaced with cable cars and then electric trolleys which led to the construction of more housing along their routes. Expansion was so rapid that buildings were overcrowded when first built. Adoption of a prototype plan for neighborhood schools in 1857 led to an economically viable option in a set of expandable school specifications. These specifications called for the construction of square plan, four classrooms per floor, with the ability to add up to two more floors.

The earliest St. Louis public schools were constructed to conform to the Lancasterian system of education in which there was a large study hall supervised by a head teacher with one or more small adjacent classrooms monitored by assistant teachers. In 1857, the "Board of Education" of St. Louis adopted a graded system and promulgated "principles of school construction" which were to dictate school design in St. Louis for forty years. The administrators also established school districts to minimize confusion in student records. This called for schools of uniform specifications to be built in neighborhoods throughout the City as needed. In thinly settled districts, schools were to be one-half to one-third full size and constructed with a view to receiving additions when needed. The Board of Education recommended that each school follow a square, four rooms per floor plan. Vertical additions would provide second and if necessary, third floors. A three-story, four rooms per floor school would accommodate twelve classrooms then thought to be the optimum number for one administrator. In theory, this four-room expandable school model allowed the Board to provide each neighborhood with no more than the number of seats needed and to increase that number only if and when the increase in the population of the district so warranted. In actuality, schools in densely populated areas grew well beyond the typical twelve-room building. (Frank P. Blair School, built in 1882 received additions in 1888, 1891 and 1894 which provided 25 classrooms, including a separate kindergarten building.)

The Board of Education up until 1897 was made up of 21 members representing individual wards. This situation led to so much in fighting among this partisan group that construction was often delayed, leaving the city in need of additional school facilities. Even appointment of a School Board Architect required many ballots. As a result, many classes were held in rented rooms of dwellings and other buildings wholly unsuited for school use.' Architects were hired on a job-by-job basis after 1889 until 1893. A. H. Kirchner was selected to become the School Board Architect in that year. The Missouri State Legislature voted to remove the city's old Board of Education and re-established it with a new charter in 1897 as a twelve-member Board comprised of leading citizens who pursued the task of bringing St. Louis school facilities up to par.

The administration of a school system for the City of St. Louis was hindered by problems from the very start. Even though a funding mechanism was set in place in 1812 with the creation of school lands, the first public schools opened 26 years later. The legislature of the Missouri territory intervened in 1833 to reorganize the administrative body and again in 1897, the Missouri legislature created a new body to limit opportunities for corruption and to make the election of directors city-wide.

In 1812, an act of Congress set aside one-twentieth of the vacant lands of St. Louis for the support of the schools. Problems were encountered when the survey was attempted in 1813 from efforts of speculators and opposing claimants. In 1817, the Missouri Territorial Legislature granted a charter for the Board of Trustees to manage the land grant. Auguste Chouteau, Alexander McNair, Thomas Hart Benton, and four other accomplished men made up this Board of Trustees. The election of Governor Daniel Dunklin in 1832 marked the state wide push of the common school ideology. He restated the popular faith in education as "the best safeguard of our republican institutions". By 1833, the failures of the trustees were so obvious that the state legislature established a new agency to manage the lands and oversee public education. In April 1833 the "Board of President and Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools" was incorporated and elections were held within a year and the first leases of school lands were made. The responsibilities spelled out for this new body in the 1833 Act of Incorporation as follows: controlled land belonging to schools; appointment of teachers; the character of the curriculum; and management of the pupils. All free males over 21 were eligible to vote for directors. With the opening of two schools for 288 students in 1838, St. Louis joined the common school movement and this system grew insistently until it included nearly 80,000 students in elementary schools in 1900.

Problems of funding and of getting interested capable candidates for the school board led to public accusations and investigations into actions or inaction of the members of the board and to pre-election riots in the 1840s. After 1848, the candidates were nominated by political parties without improvement in interest or abilities of suitable candidates. In 1853, Superintendent John Tice complained that good candidates were elected by "more the result of accident than design; the prevalent feeling being that anyone will do for a school board director". The president of the board in 1855 urged the directors to read the Annual Report so they might become more familiar with the system. Comments by William Garwood in 1857 revealed the temptations that readily presented themselves to the board members which he felt would be negated by compensation for directors. His proposal was rejected.

This situation and the willingness of directors to delegate authority resulted in the naming of paid officers for the board and the establishment of permanent standing committees with considerable freedom. This fragmentation of responsibility led to the importance of the superintendent as chief executive. By 1852, the superintendent, was the highest paid employee of the system. Superintendent Tice knew that no business would be carried on well or profitably without personal supervision to see that this was well done and how much by each person. This abdication of their mandate, through neglect indifference, or incompetence, elevated the importance of the superintendent in the business of education. The doctrine of economy and effective administration was preached in every Annual Report and innumerable board meetings. Uniformity of instruction was the mechanism used to solve the problem of education numbers of children at a minimum cost and at maximum efficiency.

The earliest schools constructed for St. Louis public schools were constructed to conform to the requirements of the Lancasterian system of education. This system, developed in England by Joseph Lancaster at the start of the 19th century, used more advanced students to teach less advanced ones. This provided a system that he called "the Monitorial System" that could enable small number of adult masters to educate large numbers of students at low cost. In St. Louis, a modified system was used where a head teacher supervised a large class in a large room, with one or more smaller rooms monitored by assistant teachers.

Towards reaching their goals of uniformity, the school board in 1857 introduced a graded system of six classes, three primary and three grammar school classes. By 1860 over eighty percent of the schools were graded schools with prescribed courses and advancement possible only by achieving a specified percentage on a standard exam. The program of one school shall be the program of all schools so that the same grades are all doing the same study at the same hour. Based on the factory system, uniformity and economy were the result. Another significant change introduced in 1857 was the establishment of a District Plan for St. Louis that was intended to encourage stability of school population, minimize confusion over school records, discourage arbitrary selection of schools for personal reasons, and to prevent the exclusion of neighborhood children from neighborhood schools.

Corruption however, did not become a persistent issue in School Board affairs until the 1880s. Reformers secured the passage of the Drabelle Bill in 1887s an attempt to substitute nonpartisan elections for the tyranny of ward politics. While some changes resulted, the behavior of the directors was not affected. The board was made up of contractors and others who used their positions to further their party or their own interests. In 1891, eleven of the thirteen directors up for reelection were contractors and their victory resulted in continued mismanagement and misuse of the board's resources.

Sale of School property, contracts to board members, political patronage, and advancements for teachers through Petticoat Pulls became topic of discussion in St. Louis but few directors were turned out of office. The fact that the board was responsible for appointing judges to oversee its own election resulted in widespread fraud including miscounting, loss or destruction of ballots. Reformers concluded that the board must be made nonpartisan by making the election on an at-large basis. In 1897, the Civic Federation succeeded in having the state legislature pass a new charter for St. Louis Schools based on a model developed in Cleveland and New York.

This new charter limited the role of the directors to assuring fiscal responsibility and deciding board policy issues while it prevented intervening in the daily affairs of the system. It gave executive powers to four specialized officers: commissioner of buildings, secretary-treasurer, auditor, and a superintendent of instruction. It called for examinations for janitors and teachers, granting advancement solely on merit. It limited the number of offices to be held and required directors to run on a general rather than party ticket. It reduced the number of directors from twenty-one to twelve and lengthened terms from two to six years.

The Grant School neighborhood was served by a public school from 1868 when the first Gravois School was built as a two-story Italianate four-room school at Gravois Road and Wyoming Street. That building was a schoolhouse, more residential in scale and appearance with very little attention paid to the site or to ornament.

The building was designed by J. H. Maurice and was built in 1867 at a cost of $17,083.00. In 1875, this building was identified as one of the smallest in the City of St. Louis with only four rooms, capacity of 240 students. As the neighborhood continued to develop, plans for replacement of the earlier building began in 1889 with the preparation of a plan for the typical 12-room classroom building. The earliest drawings for what was to become Grant School, are labeled Gravois. It was the basic square plan with four classrooms per floor that was required by policy of the St. Louis School Board. After Grant School opened and the neighborhood continued to develop, the new building proved too small. The old Gravois School was opened as Grant Branch to ease the overcrowding at the Grant School. Gravois School was demolished in 1929. In addition, three portable classrooms were on site prior to the 1901 addition.

Kirchner's design for the replacement of the Gravois School represented a major improvement over the existing school for the neighborhood and would allow for neighborhood growth. He incorporated features to improve the quality of light and air for users of this school. He provided outside windows for each wardrobe closet. He included large skylights over the stairs. His building included central heating and incorporated air ventilation for each classroom via the massive flues. He did all of this while conforming to the plan in place by the school board. This school was built at a cost of $37,376.00 and was three times the size of the school it replaced. His site was elevated with a stone retaining wall and decorative iron fencing. Brick walks surrounded the building and led out to the brick outhouse, located in the southwest corner of the school grounds, adjacent to the alley. In seven years, all of the classrooms in the 1893 building were in use and overcrowded.

As the first Commissioner of School Buildings for the St. Louis Board of Education, and as successor to A. H. Kirchner, School Architect, William Butts Ittner designed the addition to Kirchner's Grant School. Ittner matched the 1901 addition to the size and scale of the older portion, repeating the line of the belt courses, and the same pattern of windows. Previously, additions to 19th-century schools usually replicated the original building in style and layout. His addition changed the type of the windows by using nine over nine double-hung sash units. He used a hip roof, with semi-circular glazed dormers in recognition of those semi-circular decorative lintels and panels used on the Victorian original. He used fireproof construction however in the new addition in the interest of increased safety for the students and staff. He added six new classrooms, including a kindergarten room, new heating and ventilation equipment, and indoor plumbing.

Interior evidence and the 1901 "Specifications for the alteration and addition of the Grant School" shows that Ittner updated the original building at the time of the addition. In order to expand the hallway to connect to the new addition, the original south stairway was removed as well as the two south end wardrobe closets on all three floors. New stairs to the basement were built in the south entrance vestibule in the addition. The rear vestibule of the old building was reworked, removing the interior partition. The north stairs were left in place and a new set of stairs was included in the new addition, just south of the original end wall of the 1893 building. Fireproof construction was used in this addition. In some of the classroom storage areas, flatmetal studs and cut expanded metal lathe and plaster are used to separate them from the classroom space. Bathrooms for students were added in the basement and at the west end of the hall on the second floor for teachers. Ittner outlined his innovations in his 1897 Report to the St. Louis Board of Education.

Named after President Ulysses S. Grant, Grant School has stood at 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue since 1893. It remained a viable neighborhood school until 1993. Designed by architect August H. Kirchner, it received additions by William B. Ittner in 1901 and 1913. It was converted to a middle school in 1968 and was closed in 1993.

Vacant and open to the elements, the decrepit building is blight on the immediate neighborhood near Gravois. A major historic rehabilitation project is planned to convert this building into apartments.

Building Description

Grant School is a three-story brick neighborhood school complex in a working class neighborhood on the south side of St. Louis, just north of Gravois at 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was constructed in three phases starting with the original three story, hipped roof, 12-room Romanesque Revival school designed by A. H. Kirchner in the rapidly developing south side neighborhood. A six-room, three-story hipped roof addition, designed by W. B. Ittner was added to the south side of the original school in 1901. The final element was constructed in 1968 when a one-story, flat-roofed multi-purpose room of buff brick was built onto the south end of the earlier addition. This neighborhood school is situated on a raised lot at the corner of Pennsylvania and Crittenden Streets and features a limestone retaining wall on the main street facades. The original housing stock was removed from the west side of this school to permit the construction of a paved parking lot and playground as part of the 1968 improvements. The school is now vacant, surrounded by housing.

The original portion of the building contains four classrooms per floor with cross halls, with the stairs in the south and north cross hall. Fenestration features three windows in the walls of each classroom with a smaller window in each of the wardrobe closets at the north and south walls, behind the cross hall. The main first-floor windows have flat window tops while the second floor has full semi-circular brick lintels with carved stone panels. Brick columns frame each window on the second floor while the third floor has flat-top window openings that are capped by a stone belt course. A stone belt course serves as the window sills for the second and third-floor windows. Windows are two light over two light double hung sashes.

The original roof of this 1893 building was of slate on wooden framing. The slate had been replaced in 1968 with composition shingles that are now in poor condition. It is a truncated hip roof with copper flashing and ridges. The building featured two large chimney stacks with three flues each on the north and on the south side. A large metal chimney hood covered the tops of all four chimneys. The original construction featured a hipped glazed skylight at the south and north ends of the stair corridor on the third floor. A rear vestibule on the west side was divided into two parts for separate entrances of boys and girls. The 1893 construction is of masonry load-bearing wall construction with 2 x 12-inch floor joists, spaced 12" apart. In all of the 1893 classrooms, lathe and plaster ceilings remain under pressed metal decorative ceilings. The corridors have concrete floor systems but finished wooden flooring exists in all of these rooms and in the corridors.

The main facade is the eight-bay east facade and features a projecting entrance vestibule with a full arch under a brick parapet wall with decorative corner minarets and a decorative gable above the projecting center pavilion. At the front entrance, stone is used up to the base of the semicircular arch over the door. The spring blocks are carved stone and brick corbelling accents the arch. Carved stone spandrel panels are used above the arch in the space below the stone belt course. Carved stone bases anchor the simulated round minarets that rise through the belt course and frame the carved stone "GRANT SCHOOL" cartouche. This facade has three bays of window on either side of the slightly projecting central pavilion. The brick walls are used from the ground line up on the rest of the building. The windows are two over two double-hung sash units with similar treatment on the first and third floor classrooms. The second-floor classroom windows feature an arcade with triple set of windows with pronounced semicircular lintels containing carved stone panels under decorative brick lintels. The three windows are treated as a unit with two over two double hung sash with a 20-inch tall by 40-inch wide transom above each of them. The windows are separated by engaged triple columns and a single column at each end. The area above the entrance vestibule contains two window sash with segmental arched corbelled brick lintels. There are a pair of smaller windows above these on the third floor which is treated the same as the classroom windows of the second floor.

Within the center gable at the attic level, is a Palladian window of two smaller one-over-one light windows with a larger center one-over one-window which is separated from the two by an engaged column and capped with a similar semi-circular stone panel and decorative brick lintel.

The north and south facades were treated similarly and are six bays wide. A decorative stone belt course at the sill level is the major decorative element, interrupted by two chimneys that contained ventilation flues for each classroom. These brick flues originally featured decorative corbelled brick caps with metal hoods which had since been removed. The center pair of windows on each floor are slightly smaller in width, as they served as windows for two wardrobes per floor.

The west facade was the rear facade and faced an alley and the rear of the former houses on the adjacent street. It is an eight-bay facade with little additional detailing. The center two windows on each floor are narrower than the three windows for each classroom. At the ground level, a small hipped roof rear vestibule provided access from the main hall to the playground.

In 1901, a three-story brick addition, 70 feet by 46 feet, was added to the south end of the original building. The addition created six new classrooms with an additional stairway with cross halls. The main hallway of the original building was extended into the addition with the removal of the south set of stairs and the south pair of wardrobe closets. The detailing of the addition is very restrained and is limited to replication of the belt courses. The brick used matches the original section but is laid up with a Flemish bond header row on every sixth row. The addition is three bays wide with an indented cross hall as the connector. It has a hipped roof and there are semi-circular roofed dormers on the north, east and south sides of the roof. This addition is of fireproof construction of steel and iron framing and concrete. The windows in the addition are nine over nine, double-hung window sash units. The south skylight was removed as part of the alterations needed to provide access to the new addition. The first-floor rooms were altered to accommodate younger children with the lowering of the blackboards. A boiler and radiator system was added at the time of the addition and the chimneys covers were removed and flues shortened.

The stone retaining wall was extended and capped with St. Louis ledge limestone to match the original wall, bathrooms for the students were added in the basement and granitiod concrete flooring was used there. Marble tile was used in the vestibules.

In 1904 the north stairs in the original building were removed and a new set of stairs was installed in the west end of the original main hall. The opening in the floor for the stairs was filled in and doorways were changed to accommodate this alteration of the floor plan. In 1913, the stairs were again reworked and were enclosed behind the metal and wire glass firewall. The pressed metal ceiling in the original building dates from this renovation as well.

In 1968, a one-story flat roof multi-purpose room was added to the south end using brick of different color from the older portion. It is connected to the south side of the 1901 addition by a lower one-story flat-roofed office and hallway which required alteration to the three original windows of the southwest classroom in the addition.

The original building retains its Victorian interior, complete with baseboards, molded window and door trim with bulls' eye corner blocks. Each of the 12 classrooms was provided fresh air through vents located in the flue stacks which have been closed up. In typical construction of the period, these vents share one common stack with each vent staggered so that the first floor is to the east, second floor is in the middle, and the third floor is to the west side of the chimney stack. Classrooms feature storage closets for the teachers and large cloakrooms. Four-panel doors remain. Several of the rooms retain pressed metal ceilings in poor condition. Blackboards are located on three walls of each room. Large operable windows and large glass transoms helped keep daylight and fresh air available to all parts of the building. Storage closets also have windows to the hallway or to the outside. The stairways are separated from the main hall by metal walls and doors featuring wire glass and metal stairs. The original stairs and balustrade and railings are in fair to good condition. Some portions of the halls have been closed off with glazed panels and doors to create office space. The facade creates a grand portal to education symbolically and functionally with wide steps, decorative fencing and special detaining over the main entrance.

The 1901 addition retains its original interior although some classrooms have been divided into smaller spaces. The southeast corner room on the first floor had three windows bricked in to accommodate the roof of the multi-purpose addition. This addition is in better condition because of fewer problems with the roof. The hallway has had additional storage units added.

The 1968 addition has suffered major damage from vandalism and from water penetration. This flat roof addition was constructed after the period of significance and detracts from the earlier portions. This addition will be removed in the rehabilitation to permit the restoration of the windows in the south wall of the southeast classroom.

The school was built in the Marquette-Cherokee Neighborhood replacing the earlier 1867 Gravois School, which was located at Gravois and Wyoming. The Grant School was surrounded by brick single-family homes and flats with occasional neighborhood commercial buildings. It is just north of the intersection of Arsenal and Gravois. The homes west of the school have been demolished for a parking lot and playground area, but the remaining area seems to retain its viable housing stock.

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of 1893 portion, from the Northeast (2004)
View of 1893 portion, from the Northeast (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Main entrance from the East (2004)
Main entrance from the East (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Main entrance (2004)
Main entrance (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of the building from the Southeast (2004)
View of the building from the Southeast (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of the school from the West (2004)
View of the school from the West (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of the school from the Southwest (2004)
View of the school from the Southwest (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of the 1968 addition from the Northwest (2004)
View of the 1968 addition from the Northwest (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri View of the 1893 school from the Northwest (2004)
View of the 1893 school from the Northwest (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Main corridor stairs, first floor looking west (2004)
Main corridor stairs, first floor looking west (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Corridor into the 1901 addition, looking south (2004)
Corridor into the 1901 addition, looking south (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri South wall of the third floor southeast classroom (2004)
South wall of the third floor southeast classroom (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri First floor teacher closets in west wall, 1893 first floor classroom (2004)
First floor teacher closets in west wall, 1893 first floor classroom (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Main stairs in the northwest portion of the 1893 building (2004)
Main stairs in the northwest portion of the 1893 building (2004)

Grant School, St. Louis Missouri Second floor classroom in 1893 building (2004)
Second floor classroom in 1893 building (2004)