Historic Structures

Building Description James Russell Lowell Elementary School, Louisville Kentucky

The James Russell Lowell Elementary School contains two major buildings constructed during two separate building campaigns in 1916 and 1932. Although quite different in overall appearance, design and scale, certain similarities make the association architecturally interesting.

The design of the original East Highland Park School responded, for the most part, to the Craftsman bungalow influences displayed by many neighborhood residences built during the early 20th century. It also, however, displays an ornate bell tower and arch-topped windows, Victorian details that contribute to the somewhat unusual appearance of the building. This mixture of period design details is not apparent in Hawes' later designs shown at the 1931 Speed Museum exhibit.

J. Meyrick Colley, engineer and architect for the Louisville Public School system designed the second segment of the James Russell Lowell Elementary School in 1931. Colley's design is an excellent interpretation of the Art Deco style in an institutional building, yet it also reflects and interprets some of Hawes' best ideas of the earlier building. Colley's school remains a sixty year old example of successful design relationship between the old and new. In plan, the new school was also organized on a three block division, with multi-bay front enlivened by projecting and receding planes. Hawes' entry arch motif is repeated in Colley's design as are the decorative brick patterns of belt course and basketweave. Although Colley definitely reached beyond Highland Park for design inspiration, he gave considerable attention to the design of the building to which he added.

Both buildings were well maintained and in generally good to excellent condition at the school's closing in 1991. Durable original finishes such as brick masonry, cut stone and formed concrete, with wood confined to trim and sash, has required limited exterior maintenance. Interior surfaces including floors of wood, terrazzo, and linoleum squares; walls of glazed brick and plaster; metal lockers built into hallway walls and simply-molded, varnished or painted wood trim at openings and baseboards likewise assured limited repair and painting of interior surfaces and fixtures. After the school closed, vandals entered the buildings, damaging windows, light fixtures, clocks, cabinetry, plumbing fixtures and other built-in components.

The oldest section (1916) is a brick masonry building, roughly rectangular in shape with overall exterior dimensions of 224'8" by 112'8", divided into three main blocks. The central projecting entry bay is flanked by wings, each with a projecting bay. The building is a raised, single story with full, daylight basement and unused, lighted attic in the central block.

The 1932 portion of the school, when built, became the dominant feature of the campus. Oriented north to Phillips Lane, the building connected to the rear of the 1916 school via a one-story, connecting corridor. Like the earlier building, the 1932 school plan is divided into three major blocks with administration and gymnasium facilities and major stairwell in the center block, flanked by almost identical wings. Overall, the greatest dimensions of the building measure 284' 6" by 162'. The front elevation is divided into seven major bays (in this case, wall planes) with subdivisions articulated by projecting piers, windows and doors. It is a full two stories with basement boiler room, and an additional, unoccupied story in the central tower (used for storage). The tower is a dominant feature of the building and its third story polygonal roof, topped with red clay tiles, is visible throughout the area. Interestingly, the design of the large skylights of the new Regional Airport terminal adjacent to the Lowell School resemble in profile, the rather squat conical dome of the Lowell School tower. The tower front is divided by four massive, stone piers into a three-sided, polygonal bay, each side with a double door opening. Above the transomed doors are pairs of sash windows and, above these, are circular windows with radiating mullions framed by courses of radiating brick.

The interior of the 1916 building is divided into administrative and assembly areas in the center block flanked by classroom wings. The central auditorium holds 326 seats and has a raised stage area. Cafeteria and kitchen are located on the lower level, north.

The interior of the 1932 building focuses on functional capabilities rather than decorative embellishments. The first floor of the central block contains administrative offices, circulation corridors and stair, ventilation shaft and the gymnasium. To the rear of the gym is the mechanical / boiler room and coal room. The second floor central block contains the library in the bay, four classrooms and the upper staircase. As in the flanking wings, wide corridors feature built-in metal doored lockers.

The east wing, first floor contains two kindergarten classrooms that can be joined or separated by folding wood doors that extend from floor to ceiling. Tall sash windows, a polygonal bay with built-in cupboards beneath and pale yellow and medium green glazed bricks from floor to about 4' up distinguish the kindergarten space from other rooms of the school. The wing also includes two classrooms (21'10" by 29'10"), shop, boys toilet, secondary entry to Phillips Lane (front) with vestibule opposite and entry with stairwell to the west end. The second floor of the east wing contains, above the kindergarten rooms, additional kindergarten play rooms, four classrooms (same size as floor below) boy's toilet, corridors and stair.

The west wing, first floor is similar to the east wing with the exception of the polygonal bay that contains the kindergarten rooms. This block contains four classrooms (three at 21'10" by 29'10" and one at 21' 10" by 18' 2"), janitor's room, girl's toilet, secondary entry to Phillips Lane (front) with vestibule opposite and rear entry with stair. The second floor of the west wing contains five equally sized classrooms, storage room, rear stir, girl's toilet and corridors with lockers.

The heating plant for the school is in a very large, one-story, rectangular area, half below ground, located immediately behind (south) of the gymnasium. A coal fired boiler system heated the building and the exceptionally tall brick stack is attached to the east end of the heating plant. A large ventilating shaft located next to the central stairwell and sub-floor plenum chamber help circulate air through the building. The building does not have central air conditioning but all windows are operable. Cast iron radiators located in each room and hallway were painted beige.

Institutional plumbing fixtures include at least two porcelain sinks with formed backsplashes and nickel-plated double water spouts in each bathroom; banks of porcelain urinals in the boys bathrooms; and at least five toilets separated by metal partitions in each bathroom. Some original metal partition doors have been replaced with wood finished laminate doors. Many plumbing pipes are exposed.