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Matthew Ginn's Portland Public Schools photo tour: Roosevelt and Wilson

Roosevelt High School

This summer, local architecture and construction photographer Matthew Ginn of Homestead Images has taken on a project to photograph Portland's public schools. His first two schools visited are Roosevelt High and Wilson High. I'd like to share a few of his shots interspersed with info obtained from Portland Public Schools about the sites.

Interestingly, these buildings are not included in Bart King's otherwise comprehensive Architectural Guidebook to Portland. But one look at these buildings, or numerous other high schools, middle and elementary schools around town, and it's clear they are both highlights and cornerstones, so to speak, of the city fabric.

Roosevelt High School is located in the St. Johns neighborhood of north Portland. The 17 acre campus includes the original school building (built in 1921) as well as additions of an auditorium in 1930, a gymnasium in 1950, a library and more classrooms in 1960, and even an observatory in 1964.

The Roosevelt High School campus represents a partially realized expandable campus; two of the three parts of an extensible plan were constructed.  The two-story main building and auditorium were designed in the Colonial Revival style. Its principal character-defining features include a main portico lined with Corinthian columns, and something described by PPS as "closed bed pediment with festoon adorned tympanum."  The building also exhibits a "modillion cornice, jack arch lintels with a keystone above all windows, staggered corner quoins of brick, a beveled watertable, and a clock tower replete with open belfry".

Here's more from Portland Public Schools on Roosevelt:

In 1869, the first high school, housed in two rooms of the former North School building in Portland, was opened. Despite early struggles in the development of a consistent curriculum, the high school persisted at the will of the city’s residents until the Oregon School Code, adopted in 1878, officially authorized the construction of high schools in the city. The first purpose built high school in Portland was the 1883 Portland High School built on Southwest Fourteenth and Morrison.  Before it was even built, the school was the subject of a serious debate among prominent citizens as to the necessity of a publicly funded high school. Despite the conflict, the 1883 “Transition Gothic” styled Portland High School established a high design standard for the city’s high schools as it was prominently featured in William Thayer’s “Marvels of the New West” in 1887.  Future high schools in the city would be built on a similarly grand scale.

Beginning with the construction of the main building in 1921 and closely followed by an additional auditorium unit constructed in 1930, Roosevelt High School was part of a dramatic building program begun by Portland Public Schools in the early 1900s. Gradually influenced by John Dewey’s Progressive Education Movement, Portland Public Schools responded to changing city demographics and ideas concerning school safety, sanitation, and child centered instructional methods beginning in the first decade of the 1900s.

By 1905, it became increasingly clear that dramatic increases in school-age children outstripped the district’s current classroom capacity and existing schools could not effectively serve areas of the city with new residential development. After several well-publicized school fires elsewhere in the United States, calls for a more fundamental change in the building stock of the district began as early as 1906 when Mayor Lane called for the construction of new “fireproof” school buildings.

The District architect took on a more formalized role in the design and maintenance of school facilities. Two of the most influential district architects during this period included Floyd Naramore and George Jones, who designed a majority of the schools from 1908 to 1932.  These new school buildings were often constructed of brick and concrete and were one or two stories in height. The buildings also contained more differentiated and increasingly specialized instructional spaces such as libraries, gymnasiums, science rooms, music rooms, as well as assembly spaces.

The Roosevelt architectural plans, for instance, showed that the school would have a chemistry room, sewing room, library, and general science lab.  Designed in the Colonial Revival style, Roosevelt High School fell within stylistic trends of the period as most schools in Portland featured the Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, and Collegiate Gothic styles; architectural revivals that were viewed as inspirational and appropriate for educational settings.

According to the Oregonian, the lead draftsman for Roosevelt High School, school district architect George H. Jones, reused most of the architectural drawings from Franklin High School to lay out the plans for Roosevelt (Oregonian 6-25-1922).  The architectural drawings also note that Thayne J. Logan drew and “traced” the plans.  George H. Jones, was well versed in the design of school facilities through his role as the school district’s architect.

The son of Thomas J. Jones, who had also served as district architect for many years, George Jones was born in Portland in 1887.  After attending Oregon State College for two years, George Jones obtained a degree in architecture in 1913.  Jones worked in New York for several years before serving with the U.S. Army Combat Engineers during World War I. Following his return to Portland in 1920, Jones obtained his architecture license.  He quickly assumed the position of school architect after his predecessor became district architect for the Seattle School District.

Woodrow Wilson High School, the other of Ginn's subjects, is located in the Hillsdale Neighborhood of southwest Portland. Its famous alumni include former Trail Blazer Damon Stoudamire, whose Wilson team I once saw defeat Beaverton in Memorial Coliseum for the OSAA state basketball title.

The 26-acre Wilson campus includes the original high school building, built in 1953). The two story, International Style school building is a U-shaped plan with the gymnasium, auditorium, and music wing all differentiated from the main classroom sections of the school by different massing, building materials, heights, and overall shapes.

The classroom sections of the building were constructed of “lifted” concrete slabs and the auditorium, gymnasium, and music wing were constructed using the more conventional tilt slab concrete.  Most of the main classrooms lie behind a glazed curtain wall and the second floor library is cantilevered over the first floor.

Here is some info about Wilson from the PPS site:

Most classroom spaces feature a curtain wall composed of three part plate glass windows with an opaque panel below.  The bottom plate is typically a functional hopper window. The remaining sections of the school – the auditorium, gymnasium, and music rooms are sheathed with face bricks laid in an all stretcher bond.

The main entrance to the school overlooks broad athletic fields that sprawl to the west of the school.  The topography descends from the school down to these facilities. The main entrance, consisting of two sets of double doors, is recessed into the building and sheltered by classrooms above that are supported by two columns. The west elevation also features a one story extension that houses administrative offices located immediately beside the main entry. This elevation also exhibits a cantilevered bay on the second floor which creates additional space for the library. The gymnasium also projects from this side of the high school.  It is largely unfenestrated.

The main classroom “fingers” extend to the east forming a grassy courtyard with a central concrete planting bed.  Due to changes in the site’s topography, these two sections of the school rise three stories.  The music wing projects northward from the south finger and is differentiated from the other classrooms by its lack of windows, its projected volume, and by a series of round columns that support it.  Between the two fingers is a one-story projection that houses the school cafeteria. The exterior of the cafeteria is entirely glazed with plate glass windows.

The south side of the high school is dominated by the auditorium.  A curtain wall of windows projects from the south side of the auditorium, but this component of the building is otherwise unfenestrated.  The function of this section of the school is communicated by its angular-shaped walls and double-height volume.

Thanks to Matthew Ginn and Homestead Images for supplying these images. Matthew is tentatively set to photograph more Portland Public Schools sites this summer and I hope to be posting those photos as part of a continuing series.

Photos courtesy Homestead Images

Posted by Brian Libby

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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