Here's hoping school designed by 'Ferris Bueller' architect doesn't get a permanent day off

December 5, 2011

Walter Dyett is one of two high schools that could be phased out under that shake-up announced last week by school officials.

But what happens to the school buildings once the students are gone?

The question is worth considering because public school buildings compose a pretty significant rank of the city's better architecture. There are 120 years' worth of school buildings around town and with the exception of a few missteps here and there, the architecture there is consistently good. The other affected high school, Crane, at Jackson and Oakley, is an exceptional piece of Greek Revival architecture that's in fine physical condition.

But pardon me if I worry a bit about Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., seen in the photo at the top of this post: Built in 1972, the two-building complex is a nifty piece of modernism. In fact, its a near-gem. But the school needs a restoration. Rust is developing on its steel skeleton and envelope; the exterior looks bleached-out and is oxidizing. The buildings look and feel worn. Not to mention Dyett was built on a pretty good site in Washington Park, one of the city's finest big parks. Demolishing the school and its parking lots--and to be clear, the CPS has not raised the specter of demolition--would reclaim a few acres of valuable public space.

Dyett was designed by David Haid, a Mies van der Rohe protege whose best-known work--certainly his most visible--is a 1974 auto pavilion he designed for a 1953 Highland Park home that itself was designed by A. James Speyer. If you've seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you know the auto pavilion I'm talking about:

Back to Dyett. Haid and collaborator Kenneth Childers designed the buildings as not to overpower the park. But you can also see the main building looks every bit of its 40 years:

The separate natatorium, which holds a six-lane pool that is also used by the Chicago Park District, shows signs of age here:

A weary concrete plaza connects the natatorium to the main building:

Under the CPS proposal, two elementary school would close also: Guggenheim Elementary at 71st and Morgan and Price School at 43rd and Drexel. A school spokesperson said the district would reevalute all shuttered buildings for potential reuse, if the closings occur. You could make an easy case for saving Crane. Built in 1903, the school is the work of architect John C. Christensen and is undergoing a campus renovation.  Who'd roll the bulldozers on Crane after that?

Here's hoping both Dyett buildings are as fortunate.