Historic Structures

Theodore Roosevelt High School, Gary Indiana

Date added: May 3, 2022 Categories: Indiana School

The city of Gary sits at the south end of Lake Michigan in Lake County, Indiana. The landscape throughout this area, called the Calumet Region, historically contained sand dunes and wetlands that made it difficult for large settlements to take root. After the Indian removal in the 1830s the Calumet Region was opened to settlement. Pioneer settlement was sparse and slow to develop.

The modern City of Gary owes its origins to industry, the United States Steel Company, who in 1904 was looking for a place to build a new plant in the Lake Michigan area. They initially thought of locating in the Waukegan, Illinois vicinity and sent Judge Elbert Gary, attorney for the corporation, to investigate the location. Gary found the Waukegan location too congested and after looking at other sites recommended the unoccupied lands at the south end of Lake Michigan. This suggestion led to the establishment of the city of Gary, named in honor of the judge, in 1906. The Gary Land Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, was organized the same year and began surveying and laying out the streets and lots for the new city. The steel mill opened in 1908 and Gary was on its way to becoming the largest city in the Calumet Region. By 1910 the city had a population of 16,802 and by 1930 the population exceeded 100,000.

The new industrial city attracted many white Americans, Europeans, and African Americans all seeking a way to make a living off the steel mill. The African American population was a small part of this migration in the first decade of Gary's existence; in 1910 only a few hundred blacks lived in the city. This changed in the next decade due to the great migration of African Americans who left the south for employment in the northern industrial areas taking advantage of the labor shortages created by the U. S. involvement in World War I. These opportunities further increased with the suspension of European immigration into the United States during the 1920s. Many African Americans ended up in Gary and their population numbers by 1930 reached 17,922 or nearly 18% of the total population.

Eastern European immigrants experienced problems with assimilation into American society but these problems were not permanent for them. Because they were white, once they learned the language and American customs, they were assimilated. African Americans, however, had to deal with racism, then openly rampant across the nation. Gary quickly became a segregated city with Jim Crow concepts such as separate but equal taking root. It was in this racial climate that Theodore Roosevelt High School was planned and constructed. Theodore Roosevelt High School was planned by the City of Gary as a segregated school and operated as such until the 1960s.

According to social historians Mohl and Betten in their study of Gary's ethnic patterns, racism in Gary did not come about as a result of a conflict over Jobs or housing as it had in other cities across the nation, but was nurtured by the city's white elite/ When William Wirt came to Gary in 1907 as its first Superintendent of Schools, he quickly supported the Jim Crow concept of separate but equal. Though unacceptable today, the notion that the races could not be mixed without social chaos was common in the early twentieth century. In December 1908 an issue of the Northern Indianian newspaper reported that "the Gary Board of Education has decided to segregate the public schools of the town." Superintendent Wirt rationalized this decision as justice to the Negro children due to natural feelings between the races. Wirt wished to avoid controversy because he had been hired by those that supported it. Although a renowned progressive educator, his acceptance of a separate but equal school system helped place the African American citizens of Gary into its lowest social strata. Prior to the building of Roosevelt a few of the segregated schools in Gary were opened to the African American children in Gary where they were kept separate but not treated as the equal of white children within the same school. Froebel High School, as an example, was one of these. It was built in the section of the city that was heavily populated by European immigrants. Though it was technically integrated the African American students who attended there were treated as second class citizens and were excluded from taking part in school's extracurricular activities.

One of the key concepts of the progressive education movement that was incorporated by William Wirt into his plans for the Gary school system, was the idea of offering both vocational training and college preparatory classes to its students. Many of the African American students in Gary wished to take advantage of the college preparatory option. However, courses required to complete the college prep option were not offered at the segregated schools available to the African American students. Wirt addressed this inequality for many years by transferring African American students to Froebel School where the courses were part of the curriculum. At the start of the school year in 1927, and because of the crowded student population at Froebel, Wirt, who was determined that his education system would work, transferred eighteen African American students from the all-black Virginia Street School to the all white Emerson High School to complete their senior year where the courses they needed were offered. This action was not well received by the white student body at Emerson and on September 26, 1927 six hundred white students walked out of the school declaring that they "will not go back to Emerson 'til it's white." The strike lasted four days with segregation as its only demand. To settle this strike the Gary School Board, after much serious and heated debate, insisted that Wirt remove the transferred students from Emerson. The Board then allotted $600,000 to build a new high school for the African American students of the city. Wirt followed the directions of the school board without further contesting their decision. The Jim Crow standard of "separate but equal" would govern Gary's educational path for the next several decades.

Gary's African American citizens were divided about this decision. Should the school be segregated, as the all white Emerson School was. or should it be integrated as Froebel School was? The segregation faction among the Black population associated with the concepts of Black Nationalist leader, Marcus Garvey, and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). The U.N.I.A. argued that the race consciousness of their children would be destroyed in a mixed school, an argument similar to the white segregationists. The integrationists followed the concepts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.). They felt that segregation embraced the concept of separate but equal and therefore did not provide the full measure of equality they sought within American society and that it would keep the Black race in a disadvantaged position. The ensuing debate within the African American community about how Roosevelt should be organized centered around these two approaches, with the two opposing philosophies each represented by the school's first two administrators, Frederick C. McFarlane, principal 1930-1933, a strong segregationist influenced by the U.N.I.A. and H. Theodore Tatum, a firm advocate of integration as promoted by the N.A.A.C.P. Both gentlemen would have a great impact upon Roosevelt's future. The majority of the African American population of Gary supported the concepts of McFarlane, but after his resignation in 1933, the policies of Tatum steered the course of the school in the other direction. Principal Tatum would administer the school from 1933 until his retirement in 1961.

Even though their schools were separate the African American community strove to make their schools, especially Roosevelt, equal in every way as to what they provided for their children. Calumet area historian and author, James B. Lane, wrote that "With the institution of segregation in the public schools [established], Gary's black people were forced to make the best of a bad situation. They took pride in Roosevelt High School." Roosevelt became a key center for the African American citizens of Gary. They embraced Roosevelt and worked to make it the equal to any white school within the city, state, or nation. The Gary American, though it did not support integregation, praised the school as "the equal of any school building or educational center supported by public taxation in this section of the country." Many Roosevelt students excelled in their academic pursuits. This was partially because of the attitude of the students, but in a greater part this was due to the highly educated and trained African American teachers and administrators the school employed. Roosevelt excelled in sports and extracurricular activities, winning the city football championships in 1947 and 1948. The school's team went on to win the National Negro Basketball Championships in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1936, and 1939. It provided a stage for a litany of significant guest speakers from all over the world and of all races and creeds to bring their ideas and experiences to the community. This civic and community pride is still highly evident within the school today.

Gary's fast population growth created many problems and one of the more serious was the development of an education system for the new city. To solve the problem the city hired educator Dr. William A. Wirt (1874-1938) in 1907 as its first Superintendent of Schools. Wirt's ideas on education embraced many of the concepts of the Progressive Movement, a reform movement of the early twentieth century (1900-1917) that promoted the idea that the ills and tensions created by the urban industrial environment could only be solved by expanding the involvement of local, state, and national government's authority. To the Progressive, education was a key concept in the achievement of their movement's goals. Although there are numerous differences of opinion among progressive educators on how this could be done, they shared the mutual conviction that democracy means active participation by all citizens in the social, political and economic decisions that will affect their lives. According to this perspective, the education needed to create socially active and engaged citizens involves two essential elements; 1) Respect for diversity by recognizing each individual for his or her own abilities, interests, ideas, needs, and cultural identity, and 2) the development of a critical and socially engaged, intelligent individuals who, in a collaborative effort to achieve a common good, are capable of understanding and participating effectively in the affairs of their community. Educators like John Dewey embraced these concepts. He saw that American society had been experiencing a decline in its local community life and along with it went the opportunity for small scale enterprise. Through these observations he felt that the younger generations were losing their opportunities to learn about participation in the democratic process. He believed that this loss put American democracy at risk and that this loss could be corrected through the education process. Dewey spent his career seeking ways to make the schools a more effective agency of a democratic society. Many educators followed this philosophy, William Wirt being one of them.

Doctor Wirt was educated at DePauw University where he earned his Ph.D. He later did post-graduate work at the University of Chicago. It was during this post graduate work, while studying under John Dewey, that his concepts about education developed. During his tenure as superintendent of the Gary schools he would bring his theories into practice and bring national recognition to himself and to the City of Gary for his efforts and accomplishments. Theodore Roosevelt High School was one of the schools developed during his tenure. Wirt had experienced much of what Dewey had observed concerning the loss of democracy in the urban/industrial complex and sought to use the school to recreate the environment of the old time home and shop. To achieve this Wirt combined two of his concepts, the Platoon system and Work-Study-Play system, into what commonly became known as the Gary System. The Gary System provided the student with vocational and academic education along with student athletic activity. These were very democratic concepts in a time when the alternative train of educational thought was only to teach the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic to the majority and that higher education beyond this was only for the few.

Wirt began immediately to put his concepts to work. To support his programs, Wirt needed specially designed school buildings that would allow for maximum use along with efficiency and low cost. By December of 1907 he announced that Gary would use the St. Louis schools as its construction model. William B. Ittner, the building commissioner of the School Board of St. Louis and a renowned architect, had been using a new design concept for its school construction. Key elements of this design were classrooms on only one side of the interior halls, central auditoriums and gymnasiums, all educational space above ground, large school sites that allowed expansion, maximum safety, correct lighting and efficient ventilation. Wirt's Platoon System divided the student body into two groups, or platoons, and utilized departmentalized teaching and student rotation from classroom to classroom to maximize the use of the school plant. This concept fit well with Ittner's open plan which was totally different from earlier school models. Instead of grouping schoolrooms around a large central hall, Ittner utilized long halls with the classrooms located along each hall's outer wall. This configuration aided in the student's classroom change by creating a linear traffic flow that made switching classrooms less chaotic than in older schools. This simple design concept aided in the optimization of the school plant which was a key part of Wirt's system. Wirt saw in Ittner's ideas about school construction a layout that was easily adaptable to his own ideas on education.

The initial success of the Gary System brought Wirt and the new city into the spotlight of national educational recognition. Wirt's educational concepts were adopted by more than two hundred schools across the nation, including schools in Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Memphis, Kansas City, Portland and Seattle. Wirt procured the services of Ittner to design the new schools for Gary where they eventually built seven schools together.

Many of the design concepts used in modem school architecture today owes much to architect William Butts Ittner, F.A.I.A. of St. Louis, Missouri. The typical late nineteenth century school was a dull red brick building, dank, dark typically having three floors with four classrooms per floor plus a dark central corridor. Interior restrooms, when they existed, were in the basement in this building type referred to as the "block plan." During the first three decades of the twentieth century Ittner helped transform what he described as a "prison-like box" into an efficient building that was highly functional, economically built and pleasing to the eye. Ittner applied many concepts used in urban planning, such as efficiency of use and flow to create his designs. Use became the measuring rod and criterion by which Ittner based his designs.

In Germany at the turn of the century, the consolidation and organization of schools and industrial firms was mapped out by efficiency experts. Education, they believed, produced an end product and quality education could be consistently and economically reproduced if the same concepts applied to industrial manufacturing were applied to education. Progressive educators used the German model to devise a new system of schools that would be organized and run by professional educators. Elementary schools in this system focused on the basics and high schools became mandatory institutions designed to prepare the youth to enter society on competitive terms. High schools were no longer just college preparatory institutions. They became places where each student would have an equal opportunity to assume their proper position in society, determined not by class or ethnic origin, but by the natural abilities of the student and need of the economy and society. The new type of high school provided separate, academic, commercial, and vocational educational tracks designed to prepare each student for their productive entry into society. Educational historians call these comprehensive high schools. During the development of the comprehensive high school extra-curricular activities also were first advocated which created a need for specially designed rooms to accommodate these activities.

Ittner developed what became known as the "Ittner" or "Open Plan" of school design. Key elements of this plan were classrooms on only one side of the interior halls, central auditoriums and gymnasiums, all educational space above ground, large school sites that allowed for expansion, maximum safety, correct lighting and efficient ventilation. The Ittner open plan used alphabet shaped (H, U, E) structures that took advantage of natural light by lining up the classrooms along a windowed corridor. Damp smells were drawn outside of the structure with ventilation devices. Modern plumbing brought the restrooms up out of the basement. Construction applied modern fireproofing methods. Ittner was the son of a brick mason and he had worked as a brick mason before college and drew on his knowledge of brickwork to turn school exteriors into finely textured works of art, blending varieties of brick colors, textures, and patterns to capture the light throughout the day. Roosevelt High School displays all of these innovations and treatments.

A review of the Lake County Interim Report produces many fine examples of high school architecture such as East Chicago's Roosevelt and Hammond's Central High School. Gary, however, was the only city in Lake County to engage William Ittner to design its schools. Gary used liner's services between 1908 and 1931 to create five of its schools. All of these, except for Ittnefs last two schools - Roosevelt, and Lew Wallace, are no longer in use. Unlike his earlier schools in Gary, where he designed in the Neoclassical and Collegiate Gothic styles, Ittner designed Roosevelt High School in a Colonial Revival style.

The era of the Colonial Revival style according to Virginia and Lee McAlester, spanned the years 1880-1955. The United States centennial held in Philadelphia in 1876 is often credited with awakening an interest in American colonial architecture. School design, however, during the early 20th century was more influenced by Gothic styling used in the old established European colleges such as Oxford and Cambridge. That trend was strongly promoted by such architects as Ralph Adams Cram and Ittner himself employed Collegiate Gothic styling in his earlier designs. It may have been John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s sponsorship of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in the late 1920s which reawakened American interest in the historic Colonial style that encouraged Ittner to use the Colonial Revival in his design for Roosevelt High School.

Wirt had watched Ittner initiate and develop the open plan in St. Louis and called upon Ittner to design Gary's first work-study-play school, Emerson High School. In Gary, the Ittner criterion of use was tested more stringently than it had been in St. Louis. Ittnefs challenge in Gary was not only to provide safe and healthful classrooms, workshops, auditoriums, and gymnasiums, but to design facilities of appropriate size and character. Furthermore, the educational units had to be located so that rotation of classes, a Wirt priority to optimize the school's usage, could take place conveniently.

During Ittner's career he designed over five hundred schools in twenty-eight states and one hundred and six cities and towns. Five of those schools were designed for the City of Gary while Wirt was superintendent. Gary Roosevelt is one of the last two schools to be designed for the Gary School Board by Ittner and is one of only two of the schools he designed still in use today. Unlike his previous designs in Gary that used Collegiate Tudor and Gothic styling in their design, Ittner used Colonial Revival influence on Roosevelt. His designs went beyond the utilitarian and provided structures that represented grace and style.

Roosevelt was part of the Gary Community School Corporation until 2012, when the Indiana Department of Education took control of the school due to poor academic performance and contracted with EdisonLearning to operate the school. Under Edison, Roosevelt was reorganized into academies and the school received its final name, Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy. Athletic teams at Roosevelt were known as the Panthers and the school colors were black and gold. Roosevelt was part of the Indiana High School Athletic Association as a member of the Northwestern Conference.