Sunday, February 22, 2015

Immaculata High School, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Immaculata High School, Chicago (1922/1955/1956) Barry Byrne, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1902, 18-year-old Barry Byrne walked into the Oak Park offices of Frank Lloyd Wright   and found himself a job. Byrne wanted to be an architect, and after seeing an exhibit of Wright's work in Chicago, the young man traveled out to Wright's studio, and with no training behind him, was taken-in under the Prairie architect's masterful wing. Barry stayed with Wright until 1908 when Wright's affair with his client's wife wreaked havoc in the Oak Park office, and the future didn't look too promising at the Wright studio. After working in partnership with architect Andrew Willatzen for 4 years, and a stint with Prairie-stylist Walter Burley Griffin, Barry Byrne struck out on his own in 1915. Then in 1922, Byrne, now exploring themes beyond the confines of his Prairie-era, was commissioned to design a girl's high school for the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the city's north side, one of several ecclesiastically-based jobs to come his way in the mid-to-late 1920s.

 [Immaculata High School, Chicago, 640 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Sisters of the BVM had purchased a large piece of property at the corner of Irving Park and Sheridan Roads in 1921 and were ready to build. The parcel was home to one of the largest single family mansions in the city, Ralph Stebbins Greenlee's three-story, 15-room, 12,000 square foot house packed to the rafters with hardwoods imported from South America. The new school building would sit on what had once been the Greenlee's large front yard, and once the building was completed, the nuns would use the house as a convent for sisters teaching at Immaculata High. In just a few years, 1,000 young women were walking through the doors on Irving Park Road every weekday morning from September through May. And in 1955, a semi-retired Barry Byrne was asked back to the Immaculata campus to design a new convent building along with a school addition that would replace the old Greenlee mansion.

   [Immaculata High School, Chicago, American Islamic College Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

But the good times didn't last. By 1981 enrollment dropped to less than half of what it had been, and the religious order running the school was running-out of nuns. There were only 366 BVM-affiliated sisters under 50 in the entire country, and of the 23 sisters still left at Immaculata, only 5 were under 50. Not that the age of 50 is that awful, but the nuns could see the handwriting on the wall, and despite every attempt to keep the high school open the doors closed on the last day of class in May, 1981.
Then in 1983 the American Islamic College, which had been established in the same year that Immaculata ceased operations, bought the empty school buildings and now vacant convent. The College had more space than they needed and went on a leasing spree, renting sections of the building to the Lycée Français de Chicago as well as Park View Montessori of Chicago, who now all call Barry Byrne's ecclesiastically-inspired, educationally-inclined building, home.

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