Doan School, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: September 17, 2023 Categories: Ohio School
Front, looking west-southwest (1984)

Doan School is an unusually fine example of turn-of-the-century 2nd Renaissance Revival public school architecture. It also displays, through its two-stage construction, the transition taking place at the time in the natural lighting of school classrooms. The building is distinguished from other schools of the same period in Cleveland and elsewhere by its highly fashionable styling and its extensive amount of ornamentation. The building is a significant work by the prolific architect Frank S. Barnum, who during this turn-of-the-century period served as the principal architect of many Cleveland Board of Education school buildings.

Doan School is located on East 105th Street, formerly Doan Avenue, for which the school was named originally. It stands near the junction of Superior Avenue and Rockefeller Park, which was laid out in the late nineteenth century as a fashionable upper-middle-class development. Cleveland's famous Cultural Gardens are located nearby. Many fashionable houses and apartment buildings were built here before 1900. Doan School was planned at a time when the area was at its height in terms of desirability and the distinctive, highly ornate design of Doan School reflects the original character of the neighborhood.

School buildings erected in Cleveland during the late nineteenth century tended to be massive Richardsonian Romanesque-inspired structures topped by large hip roofs and often featuring a tower and gables. About 1900 the school board adopted a policy of constructing only fireproof school buildings and massive roofs and towers were dispensed with because their wooden structures were, of course, flammable. Frank Barnum was retained by the board to design a number of schools according to these new strict standards of fire safety. Most designs were like Fruitland School, constructed in 1904, the same year as Doan School. Fruitland is a plain building with large rectangular windows, a minimal amount of sandstone trim around the main entrance and the windows. It has a fairly monotonous square plan and profile which is unrelieved by picturesque towers or roof gables. In Doan, Barnum realized the first monumental styling and architecturally pleasing design under the new constraints. By using setbacks, he is able to create a more interesting five-part facade. The building's exterior is further enlivened by arched openings and by a profusion of terra cotta ornament. The absence of a prominent roof is successfully resolved visually by a conspicuous and highly detailed classical cornice. Remarkably enough, Doan School was built in two stages, with the first two floors constructed and then two years later, the third floor. Because of the harmonious relationship of the facades, Barnum must have planned for the eventual addition of an upper floor in the initial design. However, the third-floor corner classrooms lack windows on both sides as on the two lower floors. Instead, terra cotta and brickwork create interesting patterns to enliven an otherwise blank space. This reflects a change in board policy which called for windows on one side only of a classroom. All subsequent school buildings in Cleveland reflect this change in policy, evidently designed in response to new improved electrical lighting available for classrooms. Thus, Doan is able to show the transition taking place in school design both in terms of fireproof construction and in the effects of modern lighting in the classrooms. It also seems apparent that Doan's new monumental style, which evidently must have gained the acceptance of the Cleveland Board of Education, was used as a model for other school buildings. Barnum's design for Memorial School, built in 1908-1910, seems to owe a great deal to Doan School for its inspiration. In this instance, Barnum was called upon to design an avowedly monumental structure that would serve not only as a school but as a memorial to the many students and teachers who perished in the fire which destroyed its predecessor.

Building Description

Doan School is located on the east side of Cleveland, along a major north-south street, and is one block south of the intersection of East 105th Street and Superior Avenue, a neighborhood commercial center. The school stands just two blocks east of Rockefeller Park, the site of Cleveland's renowned Cultural Gardens. Directly across the street from the front of Doan School is a branch public library, a brick-and-stone one-story Neogothic style structure. Bordering the school building along East 105th Street are commercial buildings and older frame residences, all of which are in various stages of neglect and deterioration. Behind the school are apartment buildings made of brick which are three stories in height. The School building is prominently situated on a fairly spacious lot of about two acres. The front lawn is bordered by a simple iron fence, evidently dating from the school's original construction.

Shade trees and shrubbery accent the grounds. The rear yard is a paved playground.

The school building is a three-story high structure that is basically rectangular in shape, although broad sections of the building project slightly on either end of the front, giving the building a more impressive appearance. The building rests on a raised foundation of cut sandstone, which extends to the base of the windows on the first floor. The rest of the building is composed of glazed yellow brick with red mortar joints. Buff glazed terra cotta is used to accent the entrances and windows

and for the cornice and a horizontal string course. The cornice is massive and elaborate with intricately detailed modillions. Terra cotta is also used in panels above certain windows and in medallions over the main entrance to form ornamental motifs relating to education. For example, open books appear in tympanum-like panels over the central windows on the second floor. The front entrance is recessed between three arched openings which are accented by terra cotta and elaborate wrought iron work. Other ornate treatment on the front of the building consists of the placement of windows on the two projecting pavilions within two-story arcades topped by round arches, and the creation of elaborate panels by means of corbelled brickwork above these arcades. The sides and rear of the building are surprisingly well-treated, with the same ornamental themes expressed in terra cotta.

The interior of the school is typical of schools from this period. There are six classrooms on each floor - four in each of the corners and one in the front and one at the rear. There is a large central space in the middle of the building instead of a long hallway. A skylight originally lit this central space on the third floor and a balcony originally allowed the light down to the second-floor hall. Two stairways, each in the center of either side of the building, serve as means of egress. The basement contains mechanical rooms plus restrooms and recreation rooms. Long narrow cloakrooms separate the corner classrooms from those on the front and rear and are expressed visually on the exterior by long and very narrow windows.

Alteration to Doan School consists primarily of expansion. In the early 1950s two wings were added at the sides of the building. These wings are subordinate to the main structure by their smaller size, their setback from the front, and their diminished height and lack of ornamentation. However, the wings use brick of almost identical color to the original. The north wing is quite small and consists of two classrooms on each of the three floors. The floor levels here correspond to those on the landings of the original west stairway, from which access is gained. The south wing is similar, except that a gymnasium structure is attached to the southern end of the classroom wing and extends out toward East 105th Street.

Doan School, Cleveland Ohio Front, looking west-southwest (1984)
Front, looking west-southwest (1984)

Doan School, Cleveland Ohio Front, looking west (1984)
Front, looking west (1984)

Doan School, Cleveland Ohio Rear, looking northeast (1984)
Rear, looking northeast (1984)