by: chicago designslinger
[James A. Sexton Public School (1882) Chicago, IL. /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1882, the Chicago Board of Education needed a high school on the north side of the city to accommodate the city’s expanding student population, and this was the result. One of Chicago’s first high schools, this beautiful Victorian Italianate structure is also one of the oldest public schools still standing in the city, and the first in a line of remarkable school buildings constructed by the Board over the next 40 years.
[Sexton Grammar School, 160 W. Wendell Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Originally known as the North Division High School, the name was changed in the late 1890s to the James A. Sexton High School. Sexton was born in Chicago in 1844 and enlisted in the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War when he was just 17 years old. He was a Colonel by 21 and was almost always addressed as Colonel Sexton rather than Mister, until the day he died. After the war ended Col. Sexton eventually made his way back to Chicago where he opened a stove manufacturing business which made him a man of means and politically well connected. He was appointed Postmaster of Chicago by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, and served for 5 years. Continuing his association with all things military, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was the largest veterans organization in the U.S. at the time, made up of men who had served in the Union Army during the War Between the States. The Colonel happened to be in Washington D.C. when he died in 1899, and his body was brought back to his La Salle Street home, located around the corner from the school.
[Ruben Salazar Bilingual Center /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By 1900 Chicago had annexed itself into a much larger city and in the process acquiredseveral large high schools while its grammar school aged population was exploding. So the Board of Education spent $15,000 for upgrades on Sexton High and it became a grammar school. Unfortunately in the winter of 1901 the building was closed by the principal when the school ran out of coal to fire the boiler which provided heat for the classrooms. The local coal yard owners were owed money by the Board and they weren’t willing to deliver their heat source until the past due bills were paid. The issues of school funding, or lack thereof, seems to have been a problem even back then!
Ninety-two year later, the building was renamed the Ruben Salazar Bilingual Grammar School and Center. Salazar had been created in the early 70s to help children whose primary language was not English and the Center moved into this building in 1993. Salazar was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and was hit by a police gas cannister and killed in 1970 during a National Chicano Moratorium March protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The organization was formed and named in his memory.
It’s pretty remarkable that a 128-year-old school building has survived the ravagesof time, the wear and tear of thousands of children, and can still look so good. The sturcture was rehabilitated in the late 1990s, and it’s a testament to the commitment of the Board of Education that the rehab was done with a sensitivity to the historic nature of the building. One of the best examples is in the windows. Instead of bricking in the openings and putting in smaller standard issue replacements which had been done in other older schools in years past, the new windows were built to modern specs within the old framework. Col. Sexton would have no problem recognizing the place.