Historic Structures

Westlake Public School, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

Date added: May 25, 2016 Categories: Pennsylvania School

The Westlake Public School, constructed in 1885, was named in honor of J. W. Westlake, textbook author and teacher at Millersville Normal School. The Chartiers Township School Board built the new eight-room school to accommodate students residing in what is now the City of Pittsburgh's West End. The new school replaced two smaller facilities, the Orchard and Old Brick Schools. In 1895, the area around Westlake School became incorporated as part of Elliott Borough.

The need for a new school in Chartiers Township resulted from a period of unprecedented regional growth after the Civil War. The need for unskilled workers in the iron and steel industry brought thousands of new families to southwestern Pennsylvania. Between 1861 and 1895, a total of 287 new houses were built in the Elliott (West End) alone. Westlake School was the largest of five public schools built for Elliott students.

In 1905, the City of Pittsburgh annexed Elliott bringing Westlake School under the jurisdiction of the Pittsburgh Public School system. Westlake became one of 115 school buildings in a system with 65,652 enrolled students. In the opening years of the 20th century, Westlake served 490 students and had 13 teachers in Kindergarten through eighth grade. By 1927, the number of students had increased to 534 pupils. At that time, the Kindergarten teachers also served as vocational counselors who visited the homes of pupils to encourage voluntary participation in the program.

Westlake Public School functioned as a regular day school under a single unit plan of organization for Kindergarten through eighth grade. With the exception of the Kindergarten Mothers Organization who met once a month, the school did not function as a community center. No evening classes or other organizations used the building, nor was it used by the community for any other purpose. In the Elliot neighborhood, it was the ethnic churches that provided social and recreational activities.

The majority of students attending Westlake Public School in the 1920s were from working class families who owned their own homes. The racial, social and other characteristics of the neighborhood remained stable in the early 20th century when only 5 percent of the pupils were described as "transient." A total of 80 percent of parents were employed in industry while 53 percent of the parents worked in the clerical field, 48 percent were in business, and only 6 percent were classified as "professional." Over 80 percent of students identified their cultural heritage as "American". Minor percentages of German, Italian, Scottish, Russian, and other European students attended Westlake. The school principal, W. C. Cleavenger, expressed his prejudice against the minority southern and eastern European families in a report about the school dated 1927. He stated that "about 95 percent of the pupils are either American or fall in foreign groups having equal intelligence." According to Cleavenger, this group was favorable for "high achievement in school work." Yet, he characterized the children from southern and eastern Europe as "retarded" stating that they had the "greatest problem in developing habits of punctuality, regularity in attendance, and cleanliness."

Educational values in the 1920s are evident in the words of Principal Cleavenger who stated that the school was considered to be "a place of happiness where children love to work, to play and to study, The feeling among the faculty of Westlake is growing that the teacher must be able to sense the thoughts and feelings of the child and to deal with the open mind of childhood and thus to guide the child's imagination and not cheat it." The word "punishment" was considered "obsolete" and replaced with the word "remedy" because the enlightened faculty realized that "punishment warps and disturbs the character."

Westlake School closed in 1939 and was sold four years later to a private owner for $3,000.

In 1946 Westlake Recreation Center remodeled the building into a roller skating rink on the first floor and a bowling alley on the second floor. To provide space for the new functions, the interior of the building was gutted including the removal of walls, doors, and other interior features. A narrow addition with three rooms was constructed at the first floor level of the southwest facade extending from Lorenz Avenue to the rear of the building. These rooms that were accessed by the former fire escape doors on this facade and functioned as restrooms and perhaps as a ticket office, or skate rental for the rink.

In 1978 The building functioned as a wholesale business on the first floor and a karate studio on the second floor. A coin operated laundry consumed the northeastern comer of the basement. The basement facade in this area has been remodeled with sheet metal and particleboard.

The building was vacant by 1992.