by Mary Whitman
Good things seem to be happening at Garfield School. There is a plan to renovate it in sympathy with its historic architecture. Under our bylaws, one of Preservation Racine's purposes is to identify and actively encourage the preservation of buildings, sites, and districts in the Racine community that have historical, architectural, or cultural value. Garfield School can qualify for all three. And since a referendum involving the restoration of Garfield is coming up in November, we would like to go on record as voting "aye."
In the mid-1980s in a Journal Times article about the fate of Winslow, Janes and Garfield, our organization called the city's three oldest elementary schools endangered. Local architect George Blaustein, then chairman of the Racine Landmarks Preservation Commission, argued for the restoration of all three. He said: "If they are sensitively preserved, there is a great potential for (the schools) to continue to contribute to inner-city neighborhoods."
In October 1990, a proposal to raze most of Garfield and construct a new school became part of a $44 million referendum that failed. Another $7.l million plan to build an addition and remodel the existing building was defeated a year later.
Prior to Wisconsin's statehood in 1848, the educational needs of many of the city's children were provided for by private schools, but by 1853 there were 700 grade school children in five public schools.
Lucas Bradley, an early Racine architect and builder, in June 1855 submitted a design for three new ward schools to relieve the overcrowded conditions. The design was accepted and Bradley was given the construction contracts. All three grade schools measured forty by fifty feet, and each had three rooms on the first floor and one large room with recitation rooms on the second. To keep costs down, Bradley built sturdy and unornamented cream brick walls on a limestone foundation.
He included many simple windows. And each school had a "showy cupola for a bell." The Third Ward School (Winslow) opened first, then the Fourth (Janes). Garfield opened its doors at then 930 Milwaukee Avenue as the Fifth Ward School. All three schools celebrated their centennials in 1957.
Garfield was hardly a school with "frills," the criticism sometimes leveled at today's buildings. It had no running water nor indoor plumbing until years after it opened.
Water was piped into the building in 1887 and in 1895 indoor toilets were installed.
Lucas Bradley served as unofficial school architect for the city until 1874, and in 1879 James Gilbert Chandler opened his practice as an architect and soon became a specialist in school design. Chandler was responsible for the remodeling and enlarging of all three of Bradley's schools.
Working in an Italianate style, Chandler designed sympathetic additions to Garfield in 1882 and 1884 - eight rooms were added to the front of the building (it still stands as the oldest remaining section) and a four-room addition was attached to the rear. In these additions, the staircases still have the original wooden bannisters and spindles. In the early 1900s the original Bradley-designed school, or center section, was torn down and replaced with a Guilbert and Funston design.
Architects A. Arthur Guilbert and Edmund B. Funston practiced together in Racine from 1905 to 1915. All of the architects who contributed to Garfield's conception and additions are considered regionally-important. Lucas Bradley is considered a master.
This month Racine Unified will reveal plans for the Garfield School site at 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The plans will include restoration of the original three-floor school. We look forward to that unveiling.
Garfield School has a long and rich history in educating generations of Racine's children. Restored properly, it can continue that tradition. If you need more information, plan to attend the public meeting on Oct. 19th at Festival Hall at which Unified board members will give presentations on the project.
n Nov. 6 at 7 p.m., the membership will be guests of Kate Remington at the Remington-May workshop-gallery, 613 Sixth Street.
The program will feature James Spodick discussing current activity in the Sixth Street Historic District. Mr. Spodick's office is in the Historic Century Block.
* Nov. 9-15: Stop by the Festival of Trees. We'll be decorating a tree with a New Year's theme.
Proceeds from the event will support the Downtown Racine Corp.