The St. Louis Schools of William B. Ittner

The St. Louis Schools of William B. Ittner

Sometimes learning about the history of this city can be, well, a little stale. Why not combine a passion for history and the city with something a little more fun? Cameron Collins has set out to do just that on his Distilled History blog: “As I go after a topic, I’m going to stop and get a drink or two.” Sounds good, and lucky for us, he didn’t shy away from biting off a big topic – the Willam B. Ittner legacy. Cameron set out on his bicycle and visited each of the 48 Ittner designed schools in the city.

Background: St. Louis Public Schools attained its peak enrollment of 115,543 students in 1967. The 2010-2011 school year saw just more than 23,000 students enrolled. Today, SLPS owns approximately 40 vacant school buildings. The school district has vacated more than 40 buildings over the past decade and currently occupy approximately 70. In 2009, SLPS changed a long-standing policy that prohibited the sale of school buildings to charter schools. The first building to be sold to a charter school was the Ittner designed Gardenville School, once under threat of demolition. The sale closed in August 2012. While some of the vacant SLPS buildings are by Ittner, other historic schools are threatened as well. Hodgen School (1884) was still in solid shape when SLPS demolished it just last month for a playground and parking.

– Alex, editor

ittnerschools_walnutpark-plaqueIn 1897, a man named William B. Ittner became the Commissioner of School Buildings for the Board of Education in St. Louis.  It was a new position, created to oversee an ambitious plan to design and build scores of new public schools in St. Louis city. Before this, school buildings in St. Louis were vastly unappealing structures. Almost resembling prison blocks, school buildings were uniformly dark, dreary, and overcrowded. Simply put, attending public school in 19th century St. Louis was an uncomfortable and unhealthy experience.

Growing up in St. Louis, William Ittner attended city public schools. The experience of learning in a cold box-like building must have made a significant impact on him. After attending Washington University’s Manual Training School, he earned a degree in architecture from Cornell University. Upon returning to St. Louis, he began a successful career working in a few private architecture firms and on his own. When he landed his new job for the Board of Education in 1897, Ittner would apply his experience and knowledge to completely revolutionize school building design.

Ittner introduced what would eventually be called the “open plan”. His new school designs used natural lighting, open spaces, unique classroom designs, attractive exteriors, and improved safety features. Instead of a simple four-sided box, his schools implemented E-, U-, or H- shaped floor plans. Corridors were lined up along large windows, allowing sunlight to spill in and fill open spaces. His schools were the first in St. Louis to have indoor plumbing, heating, and adequate ventilation. Proper fire proofing became a priority for the first time.

School building exteriors became canvases for works of art. His father owned a brick factory, so he knew how to utilize different colors and textures of brick to create appealing designs. He incorporated towers, cupolas, and grand entrances that made schools look like civic monuments instead of plain brick boxes. Most importantly, his schools were designed to create a safe, healthy, and warm environment that fostered learning.

Ittner would design over fifty schools in St. Louis over the next eighteen years. At the same time, he built a national reputation. Architects, educators, and tourists from around the country traveled to St. Louis to see his designs in person. Thus, he began designing schools for other cities around the country. As a result, he is credited with the design of over 430 schools nationwide.

William IttnerToday, forty-eight Ittner school buildings still stand in St. Louis city. Several more can be found in the county (including Maplewood High School, University City High School and Maryland Elementary School in Clayton). His legacy is not limited to school buildings. He is the architect of three of the most notable buildings in St. Louis: The Continental Life Building, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, and the Missouri Athletic Club.

I decided to head out into St. Louis and find his schools. Over the course of a few days, I biked and drove all over St. Louis locating each one of them. The result was one of the most entertaining weekends I’ve had in some time.  It became something like a treasure hunt, sending me into neighborhoods and parts of the city I had never been.  I even met some friendly people who wondered what I was up to.  One particular gentleman walked me around and showed me some interesting features of the school he attended as a child.

I needed help, however. Since Ittner had such an influence on future school architects, many schools built after his tenure look almost identical to his.  To make sure I had the right schools, I went down to Landmarks Association of St. Louis to get some assistance.  The staff at Landmarks went above and beyond what I expected. Not only did they answer any question I threw at them, they let me review their entire survey of William B. Ittner schools. I thought forty-six schools existed, but Landmarks helped me determine two I had missed. After a quick ride to find them, I had pictures and notes for every Ittner school still standing.

Several of the buildings remain open as functioning schools today (Blow, Clark, McKinley, Farragut, Mann, Sigel, Soldan, Sumner, etc.), while others are empty and for sale (Simmons, Lafayette, Marshall, Shepard). Many have been remodeled and are now apartments or condominiums (Field, Arlington, Emerson, Franklin, Harris Teacher’s College, Monroe), while others are being used for other purposes such as magnet schools or for special purposes (Shaw, Humboldt, Madison). Sadly, a few are in a severe state of disrepair (Rock Springs, Central/Yeatman High, Jackson). Carr School, located just north of downtown, is perennially on Landmarks Association’s list of the most endangered buildings in St. Louis. Just a few blocks away sits Henry School, which looks like it could have opened yesterday.


It’s believed Ittner met an artist named Henry Chapman Mercer at the World’s Fair in 1904. Shortly after, beautiful mosaics designed by Mercer began being incorporated into the exterior walls of new Ittner schools. The mosaics at Carr are especially noteworthy. At Farragut Elementary in north city, a gentleman from the neighborhood walked me around and showed me a lion head fountain. It worked when he attended the school as a child, but it’s since been filled with cement.


Eleven of the schools are on the National Register of Historic Places (Carr, Clark, Eliot, Emerson, Field, Jackson, Mann, Rock Spring, Soldan, Sumner, Wyman). However, many consider Soldan High School on Union Boulevard to be the premier Ittner design. The school features towers, intricately carved stonework, fireplaces, a grand auditorium, and a beautifully tiled cafeteria. At the time of construction, even the lavatories and locker rooms in Soldan were being compared to fine hotels of the day.


Getting out to find the Ittner schools will take you to every corner of the city of St. Louis. Most can be identified by a cornerstone chiseled with the schools name, date of construction, and his name, Wm B. Ittner. Here’s a Google Earth map showing the location of each school.


ittner_schools-drin02-1024x1024Initially, I struggled with the drink aspect of this post. At first, I figured I’d just head to a bar or lounge near one of the schools. This idea didn’t seem quite right since a random bar has nothing to do with Ittner or a school it may sit near. Fortunately, the good folks at Landmarks helped me out again (albeit unknowingly).  While at their office, they informed me that the architecture firm that William B. Ittner founded after his job with the city of St. Louis still exists.  I left Landmarks and walked over to the building (it was located just a couple blocks away). To my great delight, the tapas bar Mosaic sits on the ground floor of the building that houses Ittner’s firm. After work, I headed over to Mosaic to see what kind of drink I could get.

I learned a few things at Mosaic. First, I learned that Mosaic makes a pretty good Manhattan. The recipe on their classic cocktail menu calls for Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Cinzano Sweet Vermouth. I ordered it straight-up, but I made no mention of my preference for shaken or stirred. I wasn’t happy with the presentation (they shook it and served it in a rocks glass), but I still liked the taste. Buffalo Trace was new to me, and I’ve always enjoyed Cinzano in my Manhattan.

ittner_schools-drin03Second, I learned that I need to shut my trap about the topics I’m researching for this blog. The bartender saw me taking notes, so she asked what I was up to. I told her I was writing a post about William B. Ittner (she had never heard the name) and that I needed to find a drink that relates to him somehow.  When I explained that’s how I found myself at her bar, she rolled her eyes and looked at me like I was a complete nerd. She may be right, but I had a shitload of fun nerding out for this post.

This has easily the most enjoyable topic I’ve tackled in the young life of this blog. I enjoy exploring the parts of St. Louis I haven’t seen, and William Ittner took me to dozens of new places. A few of the areas were a bit rough around the edges (to say the least), but I love those parts of St. Louis. It’s why I write this blog. There are stories all over this town.

In conclusion, a few of the Ittner schools are worthy of their own post (Soldan, Sumner, Carr). I assume I’ll be retracing my steps and coming back to William B. Ittner in the future. Stay tuned.

Starting with his first school Eliot, and ending with his last school Mullanphy, here are the forty-eight schools still standing in the City of St. Louis:

{Eliot School – 4242 Grove – Constructed in 1898 – Named for William Greenleaf Eliot – School closed in 2004 – First school designed by Ittner in St. Louis}

{Jackson School – 1632 Hogan Ave – Constructed in 1898-1899 – Named for President Andrew Jackson – Currently closed and in disrepair}

{Monroe School – 3641 Missouri Ave – Constructed in 1899 – Named for President James Monroe – School closed in 1980 – Renovated in 2001 as apartments}

{Sherman School – 3942 Flad – Constructed in 1898 – Named for William Tecumseh Sherman – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Rock Spring School – 3974 Sarpy Ave – Constructed in 1898-1899 – Currently closed and boarded up}

{Simmons School – 4306-18 St. Louis Ave – Constructed in 1898 – Named for William J. Simmons – Building currently for sale}

{Field School – 4466 Olive – Constructed in 1901 – Named for Eugene Field – Currently a multi-family housing complex}

{Wyman School – 1547 S. Theresa Ave – Constructed in 1901}

{Marshall School – 4342 Aldine – Constructed in 1900 – Named after American jurist John Marshall – Currently closed}

{Mann School – 4047 Juniata – Constructed in 1901 – Named for educator Horace Mann – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Emerson School – 5415 Page Blvd – Constructed in 1901 – Named for Ralph Waldo Emerson – Currently being renovated for apartments/offices}

{McKinley High School – 2156 Russell Blvd – Constructed in 1902 – Named for President William McKinley – Currently McKinley Classical Jr. Academy – First high school in south St. Louis}

{Central High School – 3616 N. Garrison – Constructed in 1902-1903 – Originally known as Yeatman High School – Under contract to become multi-family housing}

{Blow School – 516 Loughborough Ave – Constructed in 1903 – Named for Henry T. Blow – Currently open}

{Cote Brilliant School – 2616 Cora Ave – Constructed in 1904 – Named after an early named for the neighborhood – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Harris Teachers College – 1517 S. Theresa Ave – Constructed in 1904-1905 – Currently apartments named “Theresa Lofts”}

{Clay School – 3820 N. 14th Street – Constructed in 1904-1905 – Named after Henry Clay – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Farragut School – 4025 Sullivan Ave – Constructed in 1905 – Named after Admiral David Farragut – Originally named Elleardsville, the original name of the Ville neighborhood
– Currently open as an elementary school}

{Sigel School – 2050 Allen Ave – Constructed in 1905 – Named for Franz Sigel – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Henry School – 1220 N. 10th Street – Constructed in 1905-1906 – Named after Patrick Henry – Currently open as Patrick Henry Downtown Academy}

{Lafayette School – 815 Ann Ave – Constructed in 1905-1906 – Named for Marie Jean Paul Lafayette – Currently closed}

{Shepard School – 3450 Wisconsin Ave – Constructed in 1905-1906 – Named for Elihu H. Shepard, founder of the Missouri Historical Society – Currently closed and for sale}

{Clark School – 1020 N. Union Ave – Constructed in 1906 – Named for William Clark}

{Fanning School – 3417 Grace Ave – Constructed in 1906 – Named for Rose Fanning, St. Louis educator – Currently open as a middle school}

{Hempstead School – 5872 Minvera Ave – Constructed in 1906 – Named for Edward Hempstead, a land grant adjustor – School closed in 2004, building currently for sale}

{Webster School – 2127 N. 11th – Constructed 1906-1907 – Named for Daniel Webster
– Currently closed and in disrepair}

{Baden School – 8724 Halls Ferry Road – Constructed in 1907 – Named for the Baden neighborhood – Under contract to be used as a community center}

{Arlington School – 1617 Burd – Constructed in 1899, renovated in 1925 – Named for Arlington, Virginia – Currently being renovated as housing}

{Gardenville School – 6651Gravois – Constructed in 1907 – Sold in August 2012 to Concept Schools, a charter school}

{Oak Hill School – 4300 Morganford – Constructed in 1907 – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Shaw School – 5329 Columbia Ave – Constructed in 1907 – Named for Henry Shaw
– Currently an AV center for the St. Louis school district}

{Soldan – 918 N. Union Ave – Constructed in 1908 – Named for F. Louis Soldan, Superintendent of St. Louis schools – Currently open as a magnet school}

{Sumner High School – 4248 Cottage Ave – Constructed in 1910 – Named for Senator Charles Sumner – First high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi River
– Currently open as a high school}

{Carr School – Carr & 15th – Constructed in 1908-1909 – Currently closed and in a severe state of disrepair}

{Humboldt School – 2516 S. 9th Street – Constructed in 1908 – Named for Alexander Humboldt, naturalist – Currently open as a magnet school}

{Walnut Park School – 5814 Thekla – Constructed in 1908 – Currently closed}

{Ashland School – 3921 N. Newstead – Constructed in 1909 – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Franklin School – 814 N. 19th Street – Constructed in 1909 – Named for Benjamin Franklin
– Originally an elementary school for African American children – Currently an apartment building}

{Lyon School – 7417 Vermont Ave – Constructed in 1909 – Named for General Nathaniel Lyon – Currently closed and for sale}

{Meramec School – 2745 Meramec Street – Constructed in 1909 – Named for the street on which it sits – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Madison School – 1118 S. 7th – Constructed in 1910 – Named for President James Madison – Currently open as a high school}

{Mark Twain School – 5316 Ruskin Ave – Constructed in 1912 – Named for the author – Under contract to become affordable housing}

{Bryan Hill School – 2128 Gano Ave – Constructed in 1911 – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Delaney School – 6138 Virginia Ave – Constructed in 1911-1912 – Renovated and open as condominiums}

{Dunbar School – 1415 N. Garrison – Constructed in 1912 – Named after Paul Lawrence Dunbar – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Cleveland High School – 4352 Louisiana – Constructed in 1912-1913 – Named for President Grover Cleveland – Currently open as a magnet school}

{Pierre Laclede School – 5821 Kennerly – Constructed in 1913 – Named for Pierre Laclede, founder of St. Louis – Currently open as an elementary school}

{Mullanphy School – 4221 Shaw – Constructed in 1915 – Named for Bryan Mullanphy, philanthropist – Currently open as a magnet school – Last school designed by William B. Ittner in St. Louis city}


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