In Milwaukee History

Dearly departed 21st Street School, demolished and...

In Milwaukee History

... replaced by Gwen T. Jackson Elementary.

Urban spelunking: Milwaukee schools, then and now

Schools are landmarks in their neighborhoods, and some are well-known across the city. But even some of the oldest schoolhouses in Milwaukee are not the first schools to stand on their respective sites.

While it's easy to guess that a building like Elm Creative Arts on Walnut Street is of newer construction, younger folks might not remember the old 9th Street School that once stood on the spot.

While Allen-Field is clearly a 1960s-era building, many folks might not know that this one school replaced two century-old ones called Allen and Field.

Even more astonishing to some might be that much-older buildings sit on the sites of even older schools. Both Eighth Street and Maryland Avenue Schools -- built in the 1880s -- are the third school buildings to sit on their respective spots.

Even Golda Meir and Kagel, built in 1890 and '91, replaced impressive brick schoolhouses.

Let's take a look at some current school buildings in Milwaukee and the buildings they replaced on their sites. The "new" photos are posted first and the older ones follow.

Cass Street School/Juneau School

The current Cass Street School (above), 1647 N. Cass St., was erected in 1905 and was among the earliest "fireproof" steel and concrete schoolhouses -- along with Walker Middle School (1904). It also marked a shift toward less ornate schools.

The building, designed by architects Buemming and Dick (Buemming lived in a house that still stands a block from the school, on Pleasant Street), replaced one designed about 30 years earlier (below) by Henry Koch, when the school was called the Juneau School. That building was basically a twin to Koch's 18th Street School.

Wisconsin Avenue School/District 16

Wisconsin Avenue School, at 27th Street, closed in 2007. The current building (above) was designed by Van Ryn & DeGelleke, who designed a number of MPS schools and building additions in the late 19th and early 20th century, a run that came to an end in the early '20s when the district hired Guy Wiley as its own architect.

The school was built in 1920, two years after its predecessor, Grand Avenue School, was destroyed by fire. That Ferry & Clas' gorgeous building bore some passing resemblance to Koch's 8th Street School seems ironic considering the duo also presented plans for 8th Street that were rejected.

Gaenslen School

In the early days of schooling in Milwaukee, children with disabilities were educated at home. Then, superintendent Milton Potter built the open air school roughly where Alliance High School and Roosevelt Middle School are now located, near 9th and Walnut. The current Gaenslen School (above), 1250 E. Burleigh St., which specializes in programming for differently abled students, was designed by Zimmerman Architectural Studios and built in 1988.

It replaced a relatively short-lived art deco building (below) on the same Riverwest site (on Burleigh at the river) that was designed by Eschweiler and Eschweiler and was hailed at the time for its forward-looking approach to school design. Part of it even cantilevered over the riverbank bluff.

Gwen T. Jackson/21st Street School

Don't get me started on this one. Most days, I drive past the low shoe box that houses Gwen T. Jackson Early Childhood and Elementary School (above), 2121 W. Hadley St., and rue the loss of the building that once sat in the parking lot.

That building was Henry Koch's cream city brick 21st Street School (below, right, with an addition, left, by Van Ryn & DeGelleke), razed in 1977, the year before the current building -- also called 21st Street School back then -- was put up. As late as 1986, some in MPS hoped all future buildings would look like Gwen T. Jackson School.

Calling it a prototype, Edward McMilin of MPS Facilities and Maintenance Dept. told a reporter, "That building incorporates all of the latest thinking on school design." Thank God he was wrong, though no one in town has since built a school to match the beauty of the old 21st Street School.

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