Abandoned school in Texas

M.G. Ellis School, Fort Worth Texas
Date added: August 10, 2022 Categories: Texas School

Located on a site used for public education for nearly a century, the M. G. Ellis School was the most important public building still extant linked with the former community of North Fort Worth. Annexed by Fort Worth in 1909, only three years after the school was opened, North Fort Worth grew up around the meat-packing houses established in the late 19th century. The school building was one of a few structures from this period that survived in largely original condition. Erected at a cost of $35,000, the school reflects the classical trends so prominent in American architecture of the period, with large classrooms laid out in a symmetrical "H" plan. The use of elliptical windows as a decorative element, along with the rather formal entrance portico, gives the building an elegance that is rather unexpected on a public school building of the period. The building was gutted by fire on January 29th, 1986 and demolished.

The school site was officially dedicated on December 29, 1883, but a small, one-room, frame school had been on the property since 1880. Known as the Marine School House, this initial school building was moved in 1893 to make way for the larger Marine School No. 1, which was built on land given to the county by Merida G. Ellis in trust for the site of a school. Ellis was a prominent, self-made businessman with major investments in the stockyards and packing houses that were so important to the growth of North Fort Worth. On September 30, 1904, the Marine School No. 1 was destroyed by fire, leaving 400 students without a permanent structure.

The present building was the work of the Fort Worth architect Marion L. Waller. Waller, who had studied at the Armour Institute in Chicago, moved to Fort Worth in 1901. He evidently specialized in the design of educational buildings, designing the Diamond Hill School and the Fort Worth Colored High School. He was also responsible for the design of the first four buildings of the campus of Texas Christian University.

When opened on September 9, 1906, the new school building was named the North Fort Worth Public School. It was glowingly described in a contemporary newspaper account which read "The pride of the town centers on the new $35,000 high and grammar school building which equals anything in Texas from an architectural standpoint, and furnishes educational facilities the best in the land."

In 1914, the school was renamed the M. G. Ellis School in honor of Ellis's donation of land to the community as a school site. The school's enrollment stood at over 700 students. Later that same year, high school students were transfered out of Ellis School to Circle Park School. On March 26, 1930, a fire broke out in the basement of the Ellis building and rapidly spread through the structure. By September of 1930, the building had been repaired and was back in use, although the roofline of the building had been considerably simplified in the rebuilding program, and the original dormers and belfry were not replaced. In 1941 the school was taken over for defense-training classes, and its regular students were transfered to other schools. With the construction of a new M. G. Ellis Elementary School nearby, the 1906 building was closed and has not been used actively since.

Building Description

The M. G. Ellis School is a monumental two-story structure faced with red common brick set in thin mortar joints. The symmetrical design rests upon a full basement level, and is organized around an "H" plan with two axes. The school was damaged by fire in 1930, but was rebuilt with only the roof suffering significant alterations. The styling is eclectic, and includes both American Colonial and Italian Renaissance motifs.

The School sits at the east end and highest point of a triangular site. A large portion of the site to the west of the building is a park with baseball field. On the adjacent property to the east is a replacement school building built in the 1940s. The property is bounded by North Main Street on the west, N.E. 14th Street on the south, by N.E. 20th Street and a creek on the north, and by the school on the east. The building faces due south and N.E. 14 Street at an odd angle. The neighborhood could be characterized as older mixed residential and commercial.

Stylistically, the school features elements from several sources, including elliptical windows with four keystones derived from American Colonial sources, and an entrance pavilion: inspired by the architecture of the Italian Renaissance. These features, combined with the formal symmetry of the plan and massing of the school, reflect a strong interest on the part of turn-of-the-century American architects in the revival of classical forms and details.

The structure is of red common brick with limestone window sills. There are key stones in the arches in the porticos as well as other accents. The building is in sound condition with only minor interior deterioration due to the leaking roof (now repaired). The brick begins approximately five feet above the existing grade, and sits on a rusticated base which is concrete cast to resemble split-face stone. This base is topped by a continuous, smooth, slightly projecting watertable band. The roof overhangs approximately four feet with a continuous metal gutter and a soffit of beaded siding and projecting rafter ends spaced approximately two feet on center. The general "H" shape is accentuated with projecting porticos on the front and projecting bay wings on the sides, all with large arched openings. The massing of the building, with the projecting elements and the pyramidical components of the hip roof, is usually successful. The building has a full basement, two floors, and a multilevel attic. The three vertical divisions of the structure are the rusticated base, the brick wall with two rows of windows, and the roof. The central section of the building rises above the two flanking and projecting wings.

The original design consisted of a dominating, central, square cupola-belfry with pointed dome and spire. It was removed from the second floor to install fire escapes at each side of the center section in the front and rear of the building.

The construction of the building begins with a concrete basement slab, approximately seven feet below grade, and continues with concrete bearing walls in the basement around the perimeter of the building, and with interior, concrete, load-bearing piers. The floors, interior walls, and hipped roof are framed with wood.

The porticos have large arched openings, and extend full height to about two feet above the adjacent eave line, while the hipped roof projects over them to form a uniform eave overhang. The front portico is topped with a vaulted dormer above an arched window opening reminiscent of a Venetian or Palladian window. The side porticos house the wooden stairs that run from the basement to the attic.

The three primary entrances consist of double doors behind the arched openings in the porticos. The steps to the side porticos have been removed to accommodate truck loading, which was associated with the use of the building in recent years for storage. There are also three entrances to the basement at the rear of the building's center, and at the interior corners of the rear projecting wings. Exterior steps descend to double doors in the basement walls.

The main windows are double hung with one-over-one lights, and have a transom in the form of a St. George's Cross. They are placed symmetrically around the building, and are generally grouped in threes; the single windows on each side of the building (towards the front, adjacent to the porticos); and ten decorative windows across the center of the second-floor rear. There are decorative narrow windows flanking the group of three windows on the front wings, which are oval on the second floor, and also on the arches on the second floor of the portico, and above these windows are four small square windows, the center two of which have a spandrel panel with "1905" below a large arched window in the vaulted dormer. Above the second-floor windows at the front and rear of the center section, which has a higher eave line than the two side wings, are found round windows with a sullivanesque flavor. Two of these flank the front portico, and nine spread across the rear and are centered between the windows below. Four windows were removed from the second floor at some time to install fire escapes to each side of the center section, in both the front and rear of the building.

The hipped roof has a moderate pitch, and is presently covered with cement asbestos shingles. It is said to have been originally covered with slate shingles, and there were once decorative metal ridge covers that ended in a spire at the hip peak on the main roof and dormers. The vaulted dormer is covered with sheet metal, and originally had some decorative elements not present today. The domed cupola-belfry was most likely covered with copper. There are two brick chimneys symmetrically placed in the side wings and to the rear of the porticos. The original cupola-belfry and wing dormers were not rebuilt after the fire in 1930; the current roof configuration is sympathetic to the building as a whole, and has been a prominent feature of the school for over 50 years.

The general floor plan is symmetrical about the front-to-rear axis. The basement has three rooms under each side wing, with the stair descending in the center room. There are two large rooms and one central, connecting, T-shaped room under the front center section, and one large room under the rear center section. The rear rooms in each side wing were the original toilet rooms.

In the front central section, the first floor has a central, T-shaped hall with a classroom to each side. There are two class rooms with dividing cloakrooms in the center section. There are also two classrooms with cloakrooms in each side wing, flanking the stairs at the end of the hall. One office room is situated in front of, and adjacent to, each stair on both floors. The northwest classroom was converted to a toilet room at some time. The second floor is almost identical to the first floor now, but originally the center section of the second floor was one large assembly room with a much higher ceiling than presently. This old ceiling is still mostly intact, and could be exposed if the walls and ceiling built about 1912 were removed.

The wooden stairs located at the east and west ends of the hall run from the basement to the attic. The east stair, however, no longer ascends to the second floor, as it was not rebuilt after the fire. The remaining wooden newel is plain and square, and none of the ballusters remains.

The interior finishes consist of wooden flooring, plaster walls, and pressed-tin ceilings. The interior trim around all doors, windows, transoms, and other openings is 1 x 4 wood, with rounded corners. The window sills are at the same height as the chalk trays for the blackboards. The floor is a single layer of 1 x 6 wooden boards. The walls are plaster over exterior masonry walls and plaster on wood lath on all interior walls. None of the original light fixtures remains.

This school, the adjacent replacement school building, and an old police station building in the northwest corner of the site are the only structures on the property.