Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jones Commercial High School Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Jones Commercial High School Building (1967) Perkins & Will, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When William Jones was appointed the very first president of a very young Chicago Board of Education in 1840, the expanding school district had two schools aptly, and rather unimaginatively named School #1 and School #2. In 1858, as the population increased and the number of schools grew along with it, the Board decided to ditch the number system, come-up with names for their educational facilities, and dubbed School #2 the William Jones Public School. After the big fire in 1871 burned the school building to the ground, and a second fire 3 years later, a 3-story, Italianate structure was erected in 1875 on the southeast corner of Harrison Street and Plymouth Court (which was known as Third Street back then) still bearing Jones's name.

  [Jones Commercial High School Building, 606 S. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Fast forward ten years, the city's population has increased nearly ten fold and the area around Jones Public School has changed - a lot. The school was located at the southern end of the city's central business district which was packed with train yards, smoke, and an ever expanding number of the 19th century's version of men-only, single room occupancy hotels. On November 20, 1885 a Chicago Tribune headlined declared, "The Jones School - Located in the Very Midst of the Vilest, Wickedest Part of the City." The article reported that the school was "surrounded by bed-flats, saloons, meat-markets, cigar stores and other undesirable places. Drunken men shouting at the top of their voices, swearing, cursing, and using ribald language as no innocent child ought to know." And the neighborhood didn't improve much over the intervening decades.

  [Jones Commercial High School Building /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1909 Jones was educating a group of youngsters who lived in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The Salvation Army had opened a facility just around the corner on State Street (which eventually morphed into the Pacific Garden Mission) and served donuts, milk and oatmeal to kids in need from the basement of one of the oldest public school structures still standing. In that same year a proposal was put forward to change Jones from a grammar school and into a high school focused on training and educating young men and women in secretarial skills and procedures, an area of job opportunity in the business world that was growing fast and in need of skilled personnel. Think today's IT job market. Architect Dwight Perkins was chosen to design a new building for the site that would include not only a new school, but would also become the headquarters of the Board of Education. Nothing came of the plan until 1938 when the Board finally set-up the high school training program, but instead of a new building to go along with it, the Board simply used the 63-year-old building and rebranded it as Jones Commercial High School. The first student group had over 400 female students, and five male.

  [William Jones College Preparatory High School (2013) Perkins + Will, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Finally, in 1965 the Board realized that the 90-year-old building had outlived its purpose. Architects Perkins & Will drew-up plans for a modern facility to be built on the site of an old, men's-only, "bed-flat" hotel at the southwest corner of State and Harrison Streets, across the alley from the 19th century building. The "Jones girls" would no longer be required to walk up the stairs of the old building while balancing books on their heads in the poise exercises the school was famous for, and would soon be able to walk down bright, wide, modern corridors - book balanced and poised as ever.
By the late 1990s the modern business world had moved a little bit beyond the stereotypical coffee-serving, typewriter-bound, straight-backed, gloved-handed, perfectly-coiffed, female secretary. Jones had schooled thousands of young girls in how to type a zillion words a minute, take expert dictation, use punch card machines, computers, and the appropriate - and tasteful - use of make-up. The school became one of the city's magnet locations, and then the William Jones College Preparatory High School. To go along with the new name and educational mission, a state-of-the-art building is being constructed just to the south of the 60s-era structure, designed once again by Perkins + Will. There are plans to tear down the "old" building, but as of yet the city's Public Building Commission hasn't made a definitive decision. But, after 154 years of change, the name remains the same.

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