Morgan Park School

Morgan Park School ca. 1920, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

1243 88th Ave. W. | Architects: Kelly & Williams | Built: 1916 | Lost 2017

Before Morgan Park School opened, the community’s sixty-five school children received their education from four teachers within a duplex. The school board asked architects Clyde Kelly and Owen Williams to design a building modeled after two schools in Gary, Indiana. While it belonged to the Duluth school system, Morgan Park School was unique in that it initially operated on the “Gary Plan,” developed in Gary (also a USS company town) in 1907. The system, still experimental at the time, stayed in session year-round and mixed traditional school work with abundant physical education and was often characterized as “work-study-play.” It emphasized using specialized instructors rather than a single teacher for each grade, so that in the Morgan Park School it took just six full-time and two half-time teachers to instruct two hundred students in grades one through eight. The system was dropped in the 1930s.

The T-shaped building stood two-and-a-half stories tall and was made of concrete faced with brown brick. Like other Morgan Park buildings, it included few architectural ornaments, but those flourishes included a stone portico topped with a segmental arch covering the main entrance, and a similar stone pediment at the top of its protruding central pier. The building originally contained eleven classrooms, four recitation rooms, a library, four manual training rooms, two home economic rooms, a small gymnasium, and an auditorium that sat nine hundred, outfitted with a stage and balcony. While the school initially taught just the lower eight grades, high school “departments” would be added as needed, and the long-term plan for the school was to eventually serve as a high school for students from Fond du Lac to Smithville. Because of this, the school was designed for future additions. Much of its cost was covered by the steel company.

The school’s first high school class graduated in 1922, and a few years later the school’s athletic teams adopted the name Wildcats and began wearing blue-and-gold uniforms. A new wing was added in 1939, and another in 1964 that included offices and an updated library. In 1970 elementary classes were eliminated, making it a middle and high school. But low enrollment forced the school board to eliminate the high school classes in 1982, after which the building served as western Duluth’s middle school. The last classes were held on June 7, 2003, after which the school board permanently closed the building as part of its Long Range Facilities Plan. It was demolished in 2017 to make way for new housing.