Martin Luther King Jr. celebrated through Chicago architecture

January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Dr High School
Martin Luther King Jr High School (photo by Lee Bey)

Forrestville High School was under construction at 44th and Drexel in 1968 when its students--housed in temporary classes nearby--began lobbying for a different name for their new facility.

Within four months, the kids got their wish. The $7 million school opened in 1971 as Martin Luther King Jr High School. The building boasted a two-story library, three gymnasiums, auditorium, pool and a small theater. "This new building," King's then-assistant principal William Hunter told the Tribune, "has everything we need."

Nearly 40 years later, King College Prep is an impressive piece of modernist architecture. It's one of two places that stuck with me as I drove around the city over the weekend checking out things named in honor Dr. King, whose 81st birthday is celebrated today.  

King College Prep Courtyard (photo by Lee Bey)
King College Prep Courtyard (photo by Lee Bey)

King high school is a pretty fearless work. Blocky. Right angled. The school's west and south sides are lifted up on columns, allowing students to pass beneath classroom spaces and into the main entry's courtyard. The building falls flat on its east side, though, where it essentially turns an unadorned ass to a residential street that has nice graystones. The school was designed by McCaughey, Erickson, Kristmann + Stillwaugh of Park Ridge, with Houston's Caudill-Rowlett-Scott. The firms also teamed up to design the now-former Maine North High School.

King received a facelift a few years ago as it changed from a regular high school into a selective enrollment college prep. The rehab added color to the concrete walls and brightened the courtyard with patterned brick pavers.

Now for a different memorial to King, take a look at sculptor‚  Geraldine McCullough's lyrical and quite Afrocentric take on the civil rights leader:  

"Our King," sculpture (photo by Lee Bey)
Our King sculpture (photo by Lee Bey)

Unveiled in 1973 on the grounds of the newly-built Martin Luther King Jr Plaza Apartments, the 7-foot tall bronze, titled Our King, depicts the minister as a Benin chieftain complete with a crown and a dove perched atop his head. McCullough died in 2008 (her obit is here with early images of the sculpture.)

There are other tributes to King around town--the best known of which is King Drive which starts near McCormick Place and then blooms into one of the city's most handsome boulevards between 35st and Garfield Blvd, then dead ends at 115th Street.

And the tributes to King continue.‚  West Side community leaders recently broke ground on the Dr. Martin Luther King Legacy Apartments at 16th and Hamlin. The site was once occupied by the apartment building where King lived during his 1966 campaign in Chicago.

An update: A few readers asked for an update on the demolition of Standard Bank at 95th and Western. I stopped by three days ago to get the photo below--although any recognizable trace of the bank likely will be gone by time you read this.  

Standard Bank under demolition (photo by Lee Bey)
Standard Bank under demolition (photo by Lee Bey)