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What’s That Building? Bogan High School

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Bogan High School

Bogan High School, 3939 W. 79th St., in September 2019.

Manuel Martinez

In the fall of 1959, at the height of the post-World War II baby boom, Chicago Public Schools opened about a dozen new buildings across the city. One of those buildings, Bogan High School, would later reflect the city’s postwar racial tensions.

At the time, most public schools in Chicago had a traditional pillared look, but the “Class of ’59” schools were mostly sleek, modern buildings. And Bogan was no exception.

Bogan was designed by Naess & Murphy, an architecture firm best known for One Prudential Plaza and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. With a series of long bars lined with windows, the school is a classic example of late-1950s modernism.

Inside, a handful of original remnants remain. The school logo has been emblazoned on the floor for 60 years, as have the kicky multicolored tiles on the pool deck. Other remains from the ’50s include the auditorium stage, slender metal handrails along the staircases and lettering on faculty restroom doors.

Outside, the colors and some exterior materials have been updated, but the building’s profile hasn’t changed.

But the biggest transformations at Bogan are with the student body. It was built to accommodate 1,800 to 2,000 students, and the school taught more than 2,400 mostly white kids in 1977. After decades of contentious demographic changes in the neighborhood, the school now has about 850 mostly African American and Hispanic students, according to assistant principal Jesus “Tony” Laurel.

A changing student body

When Bogan opened in 1959, the Ashburn neighborhood was 99.9% white, and the student body reflected those demographics. Bogan is now 50% African American, 49% Hispanic and 0.5% white.

The change did not come easily.

Area residents fought against a series of integration plans, and the anger peaked in September 1977 when parents demonstrated outside the school to protest a race-based transfer plan. As news helicopters hovered overhead, about 2,000 marchers gathered, an African American man was mobbed on 79th Street and the protesters hung effigies of three schools officials from a goal post and burned them.

Other schools in the “Class of ’59”

Chicago Public Schools projected an enrollment increase of about 14,000 kids in 1959. To accommodate the growing student body, CPS built or greatly expanded 10 elementary schools and three high schools.

The new buildings — mostly long, low brick buildings with steel-framed windows running along their sides — were scattered around the city, but nine were constructed on the booming South Side.

Of the schools, eight are still in use by CPS, four are closed now, one became a Chicago Park District building and one was replaced with a larger building.

Dennis Rodkin is a real estate reporter for Crain's Chicago Business and Morning Shift's "What's That Building?" contributor.

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