2900 East Fourth Street | Architect: Clyde Kelly | Built: 1927 | Extant
As eastern Duluth became increasingly middle class in the 1920s, its population of school-aged kids grew. In 1925 voters passed a bond issue to build a junior high school at the southeast corner of Hawthorne and Fourth Avenue East among a grove of trees that would later inspire the name of the school’s yearbook, the Birch Log.
The school district hired local architect Clyde Kelly to design the school. Kelly was also commander of Duluth’s Naval Militia and served as captain of the U.S.S. Massachusetts during World War I. Kelly drew plans for a long, narrow English Gothic Revival building with cross-gabled roofs and two distinct wings. The western wing, centered perpendicularly on the main building, held the auditorium and stage while the eastern wing, containing the gymnasium, was set flush against the central building’s front facade along Fourth Street and extended further back than its counterpart. Faced with multicolored Flemish-bond brick trimmed with limestone, the building contains rows of rectangular windows cased with modest quoins, patterned brick chimneys, and an ornate, two-story stacked English bay main entrance with a segmental arch framed by spandrels carved in a leaf pattern and below which rests a frieze that originally held the carved “East Junior High School.” Gothic lanterns hang between the entry’s opening and its flanking false lancet windows, which are carved with inspirational statements from Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, John Ruskin, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The bay also contains a number of friezes holding floral carvings, and similar adornments can be found throughout the building’s exterior. Other original building entrances were framed with Tudor arches and stone quoins that complimented the Tudor-style gable caps along the roof’s ridge line.
Unfortunately, Captain Kelly died in May 1927, just a few months before the school opened to its first class of 950 students. As World War II ended the need for an eastern senior high school increased. In 1949 the school was expanded to serve grades seven through twelve and was renamed East High School. The building underwent a major remodeling a few years later, and “Junior” was replaced with “Senior” on the main entrance, but the school remained cramped. The school board took control of the city’s Ordean Field—built as an athletic park on property donated by Albert Ordean—and used a portion of it to build Ordean Junior High School in 1957, and two years later the 1927 school’s enrollment was limited to high school students.
Other large renovations took place in the 1970s and ’80s, stretching the school eastward. In 2011 it underwent another major addition while Ordean was transformed into a high school as part of the the school district’s Long Range Facilities Plan. Most of these renovations have been very respectful of the original building and even include entrance porticos reflective of the 1927 design. Since 2012, the 1927 facility has served as Ordean East Middle School.
Another beautiful English Gothic Revival school, Congdon Park Elementary, was built in 1929 at 3116 East Superior Street following a design by Claude H. Smith. It too still stands, and was expanded in 2011 as well.