End of Cooley School an end of an era
Illustration from the book The History of Houston Heights by Sr. M. Agatha
A demolition permit was issued Tuesday for HISD's Cooley Center, 300 West 17th at Rutland, up until earlier this year the headquarters of HISD's alternative certification program. The destruction of the building will be the end of an era for the Houston Heights, as the Cooley School was the first elementary school ever built in the neighborhood.
The seminal history of the Heights is found in the book The History of Houston Heights: From Its Foundation in 1891 To Its Annexation in 1918, written by Sr. M. Agatha in 1956. (The entire book, which is no longer in print, can be found online here.) Sr. Agatha goes to great lengths to spell out the primary importance the Heights' founders, D.D. Cooley and Oscar M. Carter, placed on education. And as Sr. Agatha points out, the Heights' annexation in 1918 by the City of Houston was driven in large measure from inside the Heights because the needed budget for education was quickly outstripping what the small town could afford to pay. The Cooley School was established in 1894, followed shortly thereafter by Harvard Street School (now Harvard Elementary) in 1898. The school was renovated in 1965 and then closed in 1980, being converted to HISD offices soon thereafter.
HISD sold the 85,000+ square foot site in August to Sullivan Brothers Builders, who I can only assume plans to build houses on the site. I never, ever tire of telling other people how to spend their money, so I think it would be a crying shame if Sullivan Brothers were to blanket the entire site with homes (however beautiful they might be) and not set aside a single parcel of the land for a small pocket park with a plaque or some other such remembrance of the Cooley School and the site's historical significance. Talk about instant good PR!
I have never had any contact with Sullivan Brothers, but I have seen what they build. While my personal preference is for somewhat larger lots, I see many of the classic bungalow stylings, raised construction, front porches, rear garages, and best of all, no shared walls. Sullivan seems to be a developer which builds homes that fit in to the Heights' history, at least somewhat. I only hope we see the same thing over at the site of the Cooley School.
If you'd like to message Sullivan about what you'd like to see as a neighbor and as someone interested in the history of that site, click on this link and let them know.
And in the meantime, here's an excerpt from Sr. Agatha's book about the history of Cooley School, as well as another photo from Rice professor Stephen R. Fox' slideshow and history lesson online, The Architectural History of the Houston Heights.
On August 6, 1894, the Omaha and South Texas Land Company deeded to County Judge John G. Tod lots 1-6 inclusive, block 131, for $100 for public school in District 25. On 17th and Rutland, therefore, the first schoolhouse in the Heights was erected, a two-story, red brick structure with green shutters, one room downstairs and one above. This original part remains in the building today, and from the back of the building one can detect the red brick where the white surfacing has worn off.
The new building opened in 1894. D.D. Cooley was the principal speaker at the dedication ceremonies; and since it was Mr. Cooley who had led the movement to establish the school, it was suggested that it be named for him. Arthur W. Cooley remembers attending classes there with Miss J. Deady of Harrisburg as his first teacher. Miss Deady's father was honored years later when the James Deady Junior High School was named for him.
The next mention of a school in the Heights was in the City Directory 1897-1898, this time giving "Cooley Public School, No. 3, District 25 ws Rutland bt 16th 17th," and then in awkward fashion adding "Misses Couch, teachers." In 1899, Misses Emerald Jones and Kate Hill are named as teachers. Miss Hill continued for a number of years at Cooley; and when she resigned in the spring of 1905, on account of illness, Miss Ruby Webb finished the term. "Miss Ruby" then taught at Cooley School until her marriage in 1913 to Mr. 0.F. Carroll.
While the first addition, giving the school four new rooms, was being built in 1906, classes continued over Frank Johnson's drug store and over Kincaide Mercantile Company's store (later Lewis's grocery). Miss Lota B. Harris started teaching that year at Cooley and she followed her first grade (and evidently two or three more grades) over the Kincaide store and remained with Cooley pupils through the years. In 1939, when Miss Harris retired, she had given the Heights a lifetime of devoted, intelligent service in the teaching profession. Another teacher who for years remained at Cooley and endeared herself to the children of two generations was Miss Daisy Russell.
At first Miss Deady alone taught all eight grades. Then two teachers handled the two classrooms. After the first addition to the building, in 1906, there were six classrooms and as many teachers. At that time, too, the old red brick was painted and new white brick added to make a white building.
The Mothers Club of Cooley School was organized in 1907, the forerunner of the school's P.T.A. The mothers took turns serving hot lunches in the basement. But first they had the basement closed in from the wind and rain and had the floor cemented. Hot lunches then meant soup one day and chili the next. But the soup was a meal in itself and likewise the chili. Two slices of bread went with the bowl, and the whole dinner cost exactly $0.05. Hot dogs had not yet appeared in the history of mankind.
Mrs. D. D. Cooley served as first president of the Mothers Club. Other ladies whose names most frequently appeared in the columns of the Suburbanite as leaders of the club's activities were: Mesdames D. M. Duller, L. Sparks, H. J. Muller, M. Sheehan, Chas. York, J. C. Carpenter, J. W. Wilder, and J. W. Hartley.
Sometimes the mothers had teas and entertainments. One social tea and musical program was reported by the Suburbanite for December 12, 1908 at the home of Mrs. T. P. Griffiths. Earlier that year, on March 21, the annual spring festival featured the following program:
AN APRIL CANTATA
Bessie Sunshine Neva Robinson
Helen Heiress Rose Wear
Twins Ellen Muller and Ida Bell
Edith Garnett Robinson
Dora Marabelle Hamilton
Nell Cecil Hawkins
Portia Helen Wilson
Maud Abbie Mae Hartley
Kate Blanche Bennett
Jennie Mabel Jackson
School girls: Maybelle Whipple, Evelyn Burlingame, Ola McDuff, Rose Christian, Evelyn Hombs, Leo Cushing.
A Bird in Hand Three Maids
Stingy" Song in Costume Leo Cushing
On one memorable February 22, the ladies, each dressed as Martha Washington, celebrated George's birthday with games on the school grounds, special prizes for the children, and booths where nickels and dimes accumulated for the school's necessities. Schoolground equipment, a flag and flagpole, a piano, and classroom aids were all supplied by the Mothers Club.
The history of this place needs to be preserved somehow, at least for Miss Deady's sake!
And here's one more photo I found while searching. (Amazing thing, this "Google.") The 1954 graduating class. Recognize anyone?
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