Harvard School, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: December 5, 2022 Categories: Ohio School

The Harvard School is in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland known today as Slavic Village. Located nearly five miles southeast of downtown Cleveland's Public Square, the neighborhood around the school became home to many immigrants of Slavic background who arrived in Cleveland from eastern and southern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The city's rapid industrialization during this period meant many opportunities for low- and semi-skilled jobs, particularly in the numerous steel mills and factories located both to the south and west in the Flats area of the Cuyahoga River valley, and to the northeast in an industrial corridor located north of Broadway and east of East 79th Street.

Today the Harvard School is surrounded by modest working-class houses dating primarily from the early 20th century. Harvard Avenue, which is a busy east-west corridor, passes the north side of the school, and East 71st Street, an active north-south commercial street, passes to the east. The building is surrounded by flat lawn and playground areas; an industrial building is located close to the school's east end on Polonia Avenue. The area has a strong, dense urban working-class character, and the Harvard School was built to educate the many children living here in the early 20th century.

The development of modern school design in Cleveland began when Frank S. Barnum became architect and superintendent of buildings for the Cleveland Public Schools in 1895, a post he would hold until 1915. Barnum began his career as a draftsman in the architectural office of Joseph Ireland and opened his own office in 1876. Two years later he entered a partnership with Forrest Coburn, and the firm soon became recognized for several major Cleveland commissions.

These included the Blackstone Building/Perkins Power Block (1881); the Western Reserve Medical School (1887); and the Washington Lawrence House (later Bay View Hospital, 1898). In 1898 Benjamin Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes joined the firm, which went on to design the Western Reserve Historical Society building that same year. Barnum later was the architect of the Caxton Building and the Park Building on Public Square (1903-4).

Barnum's innovations in school architecture were based on his observations of inadequacies and inherent hazards in traditional 19th-century school construction. Principal among these problems, from a safety standpoint, was the extensive use of wood for floor, wall, ceiling, and roof construction, and the reliance upon a traditional central hall, rotunda, or staircase that formed a dangerous "chimney" effect during a fire and did not permit egress in two different directions. Other problems often included inadequate sanitary facilities and poor light and ventilation.

Barnum's focus was to increase safety by utilizing the fire-resistant and fireproof construction technology emerging in the early 20th century, particularly steel structural members with concrete casings to shield them from fire. In addition, he studied and made improvements in space planning, circulation, egress, use of natural light, provision of assembly and exercise space, and introduction of modern toilets and drinking fountains. Barnum further enhanced safety through the use of new central heating technology using a plenum distribution system. In addition, he improved school buildings' flexibility through the use of flat roofs that permitted the addition of extra floors as school populations rose during the high-immigration years of the early 20th century.

In a 1904 article in The Ohio Architect and Builder, Barnum detailed numerous changes in the way he was designing and building schools; nearly every new element discussed in the article could be found in the Harvard School, which was completed about the time Barnum wrote the article. He compared the Sowinski School, built in 1895, and the Hodges School, the design for which was complete but which had not yet gone to construction. Barnum cited the Sowinski building, the plan for which was similar to that of the Harvard School, as embodying early modern design thinking. It had a central rotunda, with two stairways rising from opposite sides of the rotunda and classrooms arranged around it (four per floor at Harvard and six at Sowinski). This made for efficient use of space and provided bilateral natural light (that is, light entered each room from two directions). This plan resulted in an exterior of uniformly spaced windows on all elevations, as well as a nearly square plan. A central heating plant helped remove much of the danger from fire, but the 1903 Harvard building was not entirely fireproof. It had a concrete-encased steel structure, but it also had wood stairs. This likely was done due to the building's small size and relative ease of evacuation.

Barnum could not have foreseen it, but the elimination of any wood structural members was hastened by the Collinwood School Fire early in 1908. An eastern suburb of Cleveland, Collinwood had an older school called Lakeview Elementary. The wood front stairs were set afire by the heating system , and 172 children and two teachers died when they became jammed in a narrow vestibule doorway at the rear stairs. This disaster brought on laws mandating safer school construction.

Barnum, however, was already moving independently in that direction. His 1908 addition to the Harvard School would embody the still more modern ideas that he had discussed in his article regarding the Hodges building. The differences from the 1903 original portion of Harvard and the 1908 addition are quite apparent. The primary change was the elongation of the building to a rectangular form, as in the Hodges design, and placement of the stairs at the extreme ends of the central corridor. This provided as great a separation between the stairs as possible, maximizing the chance for occupants to escape a fire in any given location. In addition, in the Hodges building Barnum stayed with the double-loaded corridor but turned to unilateral lighting, which fit the rectangular well. Rooms were arranged so that daylight always came from the student's left side, which facilitated the right-handed writing considered the norm at the time. Barnum wrote that "for this purpose the long diameter of the rooms is always parallel with the window side, and the shorter diameter has been somewhat reduced. The window surface is three-fourths the length of the long side, and the tops of windows (are) practically at the ceiling line. By these means every desk will be insured abundant light, and no shadow can fall upon the surface of any desk." to augment lighting in the corridor, each classroom had a clerestory that admitted borrowed light to the corridor. The 1908 addition incorporated an auditorium on the third floor, and it had a steam-driven fan that fed a ducted plenum heating/ventilation system with individual room temperature controls. Perhaps most importantly, the 1908 addition was entirely of fireproof construction, with iron stairs and concrete floors.

Barnum was not alone in developing and promoting modern school design. It is interesting to compare his work to that of architect William B. Ittner, a St. Louis native who served as architect of the public schools of that city at about the time Barnum was serving in the same role in Cleveland. In the first decade of the 20th century, Ittner developed what he called the "Open Plan" school design. This design embodied much of what Barnum was promoting, including fireproof construction; modern heating, ventilating, and sanitation; auxiliary spaces such as gymnasiums and auditoriums; and multiple means of egress. The principal difference from Barnum's design was Ittner's use of a single-loaded corridor that located corridors along exterior walls as much as possible, with large windows lighting them. Glazed doors admitted light from the corridor to supplement the lighting coming in classroom windows. Barnum instead stayed with the double-loaded corridor. Ittner went into private work about 1914 and did some 450 schools over the next 22 years, some in Ohio. Perhaps his most important here was Columbus's Central High School (NR, 1924). Like Barnum, Ittner was well published and considered a pioneer in modern school design.

Many of Frank Barnum's innovations in school design in Cleveland can be found in the 1927 addition to the Harvard School. It embodies ideas such as fireproof construction, double-loaded corridors, unilateral lighting, and modern heating and ventilating. It has a flat roof, and for egress it has a double-width stair at its east end providing direct access to the street from the raised first floor, with a regular run of stairs to the second floor. The 1927 addition relies upon the stairs of the 1908 addition for a second means of egress, which proved a cost-effective measure that maintained adequate safety. At the east end of the 1927 addition is a gymnasium, a recreational element that complements the auditorium in the 1908 addition. The double-loaded corridor received relatively little natural light, a reflection of the fact that electric lighting had replaced natural light in such areas. The 1927 addition was designed by Charles Hopkinson, a Cleveland architect best known for the Riverside Cemetery Administration Building (1897), Alta House on Mayfield Road (1901), the Franklin Circle Masonic Temple (1932) the Colonial and Clifton Club Houses in Lakewood, and the Lakewood Public Library.

Barnum was credited with 109 Cleveland school structures during his career, including 55 main buildings, 51 additions, and three "rebuilds." This made him the city's most prolific school architect. (Hopkinson was fourth, with a total of 20 structures.)

Over time, as the city grew and changed, the school system's building needs changed as well, and many older schools were disposed of. Which were demolished and which were transferred to other owners is not well documented, but it is known that by 1955 there still were 72 Barnum structures in the school system. These included 46 main buildings and 26 additions. The next quarter-century saw still further reduction in the number of Barnum structures. By 1982 the total was 33, consisting of 18 main buildings and 15 additions. Of these, 11 main buildings and three additions were vacant, and four main buildings and one addition had been adapted to other uses.

The total of Barnum schools in the school system had been reduced to nine, all main buildings, by 1992, and today the total appears to be only four. As was noted above, there is no good record of the fate of Barnum schools sold by the school system. Some definitely have been preserved in new uses; possibly as many as half or more have been demolished.

Three of Barnum's school buildings have been put to new uses. Doan School, at 1350 East 105th Street, is the oldest (original portion 1904). Doan School today houses apartments.

Watterson School, built in 1907, is at 1422 West 74th Street. The main building was closed in the early 1980s and remains vacant, but the addition is in use for an unknown purpose. Murray Hill School, located at 2026 Murray Hill Road in Cleveland's Little Italy district, dates from 1908. It serves as apartments and art galleries.

Building Description

The Harvard School was the work of Cleveland architect Frank S. Barnum, with a later addition by Charles W. Hopkinson. The school is located at 6900 Harvard Avenue in a working-class neighborhood close to the east edge of the heavily industrialized Cuyahoga River Valley. The building is centered in an oblong block bounded on the north by Harvard Avenue, a busy east-west commercial street; on the south by Polonia Avenue; and on the west and east by East 68th and East 71st streets, respectively. The latter is a busy north-south commercial thoroughfare.

The Harvard School was built in three sections between 1903 and 1927, reflecting the rapid growth of its surrounding neighborhood in the period between the turn of the 20th century and the start of the Great Depression. Unlike many buildings of the time, the original 1903 portion was built of fireproof masonry construction. It has a red brick bearing wall exterior and framing and a floor system composed of both reinforced concrete and concrete-shielded steel beams. The later additions to the building were built of similar fireproof materials and reflected the evolution of school design philosophy in the early 20th century.

Frank S. Barnum was the architect for the 1903 school and the 1908 addition. The original school is rectangular, nearly square in plan, and consists of two stories on a raised basement. The main entrance and one of the two sets of stairs are contained in a tower on the north side of the building, facing Harvard Avenue. Over the main entrance the legend "Harvard" is carved into a stone panel. A similar south tower has been largely concealed by the 1908 and later additions.

Though it has some elements of the Jacobethan Revival style, such as an arched entrance opening with an ornamental panel surmounting it, as well as clustered windows with transoms, the building has a very spare and simple design. Window openings are vertically proportioned, in a pattern of wide and narrow window openings. The wide openings contain paired sets of triple-sash windows, while the narrow openings have a single window. A stone water table divides the raised basement from the first floor and also forms a continuous lintel above the basement windows. First-floor windows have plain stone lintels and sills. Second-floor windows have plain stone sills, and a stone band above the second-floor windows forms a continuous lintel. A plain parapet rises above the second floor and is capped with stone copings. On the interior, the original 1903 school has an octagonal central hall from which stairs rise at the north and south ends. Four classrooms per floor open from the central hall, each with a narrow cloakroom lighted by one of the narrow windows.

The rectangular 1908 addition, which was placed south of the original school, is of a more ornamental design. Also built of brick, it rises three stories above a raised basement and has a gable roof topped by a copper-clad cupola. A stone belt course is above the basement windows, and the first and second-floor windows have simple stone sills but no visible lintels. On the west elevation, those windows are set in two clusters of five each, with two windows between each set of five. Windows are double-hung four-over-four wood sash. The east side had a similar arrangement but was altered when the 1927 addition was constructed. The south elevation is dominated by an entrance tower with somewhat stronger elements of the Jacobethan Revival style than on the tower of the original school, with buttressed walls, stone-framed clustered windows, and a peaked parapet delineated in stone trim. Arched doorways lead to entry vestibules to either side of the tower, behind the buttressed walls.

The third floor, which houses a gymnasium, is separated from the second by a sloped stone belt course. It has single four-over-four windows, some narrow slit windows, and four blind windows on the west elevation in the area of the stage and wing rooms. The parapet above the third floor has stone copings outlining the main roof gable, and decorative arched panels, and small gables on the east and west elevations.

On the interior, the 1908 addition differs from the original building. The stairs are placed at either end of the north-south corridor rather than in the central area, providing two different directions for egress. Classrooms open from the corridor on the basement, first, and second floors, and the stairs terminate at either end of the third-floor auditorium. A brick link connects the original building and the addition on all levels.

The 1927 addition projects from the east wall of the 1908 addition. It has red brick walls and is two stories high but has no belt courses or other interruptions on its walls. Except at the northwest corner, there are no basement windows. This portion of the building is very simple in design, though it has a few elements of the Jacobethan Revival style that link it to the earlier structures, such as door and window surrounds and a stone panel near the southeast corner with the incised legend "Harvard School." The window pattern is an asymmetrical blend of single and multiple windows of varying sizes, all of which have been covered over on the south elevation. On the north elevation the windows are exposed and consist of varying six-over-six, nine-over-nine, and sixteen-over-sixteen wood double-hung sash. A gymnasium projection at the east end, which has a lower roof than the main block, has tall, narrow three-part wood windows on the north and south elevations. The walls of the 1927 addition and its gymnasium extension are topped by simple stone copings similar to those on the 1903 and 1908 structures. A single-story infill in the ell formed by the 1908 and 1927 additions is of indeterminate date but has elements similar to those in the 1927 addition.