In Honor of Marquette

Marquette School on South Bend's northwest side
South Bend's Marquette School made the news a few years ago when a fight broke out between residents wanting to save the school, and the school board.  That led to the building being placed on the National Register and a reuse plan adopted by the school corporation.  The school has a history not unlike many other urban neighborhood schools of its era.  The area surrounding Marquette School began to grow during the early 1900s as South Bend continued to experience growth in its population and economy.  The neighborhood, located on South Bend’s northwest side, was connected to the downtown by Portage Avenue, east of Marquette School.  As the population in the area grew, so did the need to construct a school building to provide for the education of children living in developing neighborhoods of the area. The city used what they termed as a "portable" school to alleviate the need.

The new Marquette School was completed in January of 1937, and was placed in service at the opening of the second semester of the 1936-1937 school year.  A unique feature of the school is the stone carvings located above the vestibule entrances are stylized human figures engaged in learning.  The carving above the auditorium entrance in the west corner bay’s west wall is a stylized human figure holding masks depicting comedy and tragedy.  Other carvings on the building include motifs related to Marquette’s French heritage such as the fleur de leis.

Note the stone carvings above the auditorium entry
The New Deal projects created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt provided much needed work and consequently, wages, to the American worker to raise the nation out of its economic disparity brought on by the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  Several agencies were developed to administer New Deal funds.  The Public Works Administration (PWA), which funded 45 percent of the Marquette School construction, was formed in the first 100 days of Roosevelt’s administration.  The PWA was not a relief organization, but provided funds for construction, planning, materials, or labor.  Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes headed the organization.  School construction throughout the United States evolved as appropriate and necessary public works projects that benefited communities by providing new facilities and jobs for the unemployed citizenry in the cities and towns the public buildings were located.

Between the CWA, WPA and PWA several buildings and infrastructure improvements were made in St. Joseph County with construction lasting into the 1940s.  In South Bend John Adams High School at 808 S. Twyckenham (1940) and Marquette School were the only two new school buildings funded with PWA dollars. Ten park or landscaping projects were also funded through the WPA in South Bend, these included clubhouses, shelters, and the construction of the lion house at Potawatomi Zoo.

The design contract for Marquette School was awarded to the local South Bend architectural firm of E. R. Austin, N. R. Shambleau, and G. T. Nethercutt.  Their firm designed other large public buildings in the city including James Madison Elementary and the Tower Building in downtown South Bend.  A few styles were frequently chosen for large public school buildings during the period in which Marquette School was constructed.  Architects frequently turned to classical and colonial interpretations for large-scale neighborhood schools.  Another common applied style for schools of this era was the Art Deco style, the dominant style selected for Marquette School.  The building has some Art Moderne features, such as its mostly flat wall surfaces and stone banding, while its windows are more inspired by the Revival styles popular during the period the building was constructed.


Jim said…
My mother's first school years were spent at Marquette. Her family later moved downtown, and then Mom went to Madison.

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