You are on page 1of 8

James Whitcomb Riley High School:

Historic Significance
Historic Preservation Commission
of South Bend and St. Joseph County
June 1992

Forward
What is now known as James Whitcomb Riley High School was erected in October of 1924 as the
Southeast Junior High School. This imposing structure is a fine example of the Collegiate Gothic
style of architecture popular for school structures in the first half of the twentieth century. The
building was designed by notable local architects Ennis R. Austin and Norman Roy Shambleau and
is one of the significant examples of their work remaining in the area. Riley was rated as
Significant (S-12) on the 1979 Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Survey. It was built to
resolve the school congestion problem in South Bend.[l]
The building has undergone major alterationsa series of additions have been attached to the
building on its rear (north) including a three-story classroom addition and a gymnasium. The
original facade, however, remains essentially intact on the front (south) and the east and west sides
of the structure. This facade, of brick and carved stone with large decorative spandrels, polychrome
brickwork and other decorative details, is the portion of the buildingthe significant historic

fabricthat is of the greatest concern from the HPCs perspective. This is essentially the portion of
the building that should be preserved and remain intact if possible.
Rileys historical role as the location of secondary education on the citys southeast side makes it
an important source for understanding the social and cultural development of this section of South
Bend. Residents have been graduating from high school here since 1931 and the school has thus
served four generations of students; both are important reasons why Rileys possible demolition
evokes strong emotional reactions from many people.
Riley is also significant for its place in the built-environment and on the landscape of its immediate
neighborhood. Its size and placement adjacent to the Studebaker Golf Course make it an important
focal point for the neighborhood. Its demolition, or defacement of its historical facade, would do
irreparable harm to the general environment, or subjective feel, of the neighborhood. The
structure provides an element of grace and beauty that would not be easily replaced.
Riley High School is deserving of protection and preservation. It is a school structure that was
constructed of substantial materials, was intended to be an up-to-date educational facility and was
designed with a high regard for aesthetics. The school should be seen as an example of the move
toward the modernization of educational facilities that took place early in this century throughout
the United States.
The building could easily remain useful into the future; landmark designation would in no way
impede future exterior additions or interior renovations and would help ensure that the most
significant portion of the buildingits faadewould remain as an attractive element of the
streetscape.
In addition, destruction of a large structure such as this should be discouraged for environmental
reasons in addition to cultural and historical concerns. Demolition of this building would only
serve to further degrade the environment by adding to landfill overuse. It would be a waste of raw
materialsboth those in the building and those needed to build a replacementto allow the
demolition of a structure that continues to serve useful purposes now and, with the proper care,
into the future.

Historical Development
Although the construction of the new Southeast Junior High School was completed in October
1924, it was not formally dedicated until March 1925. The new structure was appropriately
described as being an imposing edifice, commodious in its facilities, and a model in modern
equipment. It was a significant addition to the schools in the city of South Bend. At the dedication
ceremony Dr. E.G. Elliott, president of Purdue University and the principal speaker, dedicated the
new school to "the spirit of service to the thousands of children across the country seeking a
quality education." He claimed that these children were the inspiration for those seeking a more
highly evolved educational system that should be housed within fine structures such as the new
Southeast school.[2]
The school building was built under the direction of ten members of the local branch of the Rotary
Club; these citizens supervised the project from design to construction. It was the close
cooperation among these Rotarians that was instrumental in the construction of such a fine, sturdy
building.

School Buildings and Facilities


The new Southeast Junior High School was built as a spacious structure with modern facilities to
accommodate the needs of a growing student body. The new school structure with its grounds cost
the school corporation $600,000. The building was constructed three stories in height and was
originally 358 feet in length by 150 feet in width. The long, spacious corridors through the center
of the three floors were built of terrazzo flanked by yellow face-brick wainscoting. In addition to the
thirty-two regular classrooms, there were other rooms providing opportunities for modern uses
such as the auditorium with a seating capacity of seven hundred and fifty. Attached to the
auditorium was a balcony, a store room, a large stage, two small dressing rooms, and a motion
picture booth. Also located on the first floor were the general offices, the varied industry shop, and
the girls gymnasium, locker and shower rooms. The gymnasium was equipped with a balcony
seating three hundred.[3]
The second floor was the location of the art room, music room and staff rest room. The library was
located on the third floor along with a librarians room, a sewing room, two domestic science
rooms, a cafeteria and a suite of model housekeeping rooms for the teaching of household arts.
This section consisted of a dining room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The cafeteria was
constructed to accommodate two hundred and fifty diners at one time and each day served from
three to five hundred students and boiler, the fan ventilating system and the boys gymnasium and
locker rooms.[4]
By 1927 Southeast Junior High was renamed the James Whitcomb Riley School. The change in
the schools name coincided with the celebration of the birthday anniversary of the eminent
Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley. From that time on the school has been most commonly
referred to simply as Riley School.[5]
In 1929, in order to better serve the needs of the students living south of Ewing Avenue and west of
the seven hundred block, a $100,000 addition was added to the School; the school was then
converted to use as a combined Junior and Senior High school.[6]

The Ten Rotarians


As stated above, ten members of the local Rotary organization were primarily responsible for the
conception and construction of Riley. Those involved were:
Superintendent of Schools Walter W. Borden, who first recognized the need of such a
building;
Dr. Richard B. Dugdale, president of the Board of Directors of the local schools;
Ennis R. Austin, who played a leading role in designing the building;
G. T. Nethercutt, superintendent of construction once the plans were finalized;
H. G. Christman, member of the Christman Company, in charge of the building project;
assisted by
J. P. Christman, a member of the same company.
The electrical work was done by Don McGregor, representative of the Electric Service
Company;
The lighting fixtures were supplied by the George E. Wheelock Company, both men were
also Rotarians.

The electrical fixtures were manufactured by F. A. Clark and Emil Hawkinson, of the
Western Electric Company.[7]
From among the ten Rotarians, those that played the leading roles in making James Whitcomb
Riley school a reality were Borden, Dugdale, architect Austin and his partner, Shambleau, and
builder-contractor Christman. Not only were these individuals closely associated with the
conception, design and the actual construction of the school, but they each had noteworthy
individual professional careers and held significant positions in South Bend society.

Walter W. Borden
Borden was Superintendent of city schools beginning in 1919 and was widely recognized for his
expertise in school administration. In addition to his academic background, Borden had extensive
administrative experience, holding the office of Superintendent of Schools at Fredericktown, Ohio,
followed by the same position in Orville, Ohio and serving in the same capacity in Bucyrus, Ohio.
At the end of his term in Ohio, he accepted the same responsibilities in South Bend.[8]
Bordens tenure as Superintendent of South Bend schools was considered by his peers as quite
progressive. He focused a great deal of attention on educational expansion, including the
systems physical plant and its academic curriculum. In addition, many schools were either
remodeled or built during his years as Superintendent. Among them, the James Whitcomb Riley
School was a significant addition.[9]

Richard B. Dugdale
Dr. Richard B. Dugdale was one of the three men on the Board of School Trustees who was most
seriously concerned with providing adequate educational facilities in South Bend. Dr. Dugdale was
considered by his peers to be intensely interested in school matters and was described as also
making a conscious effort to improve the quality of the entire educational system [throughout] the
state of Indiana.[10]
Dr. Dugdale was mainly involved in school administration, yet was also instrumental in several
other significant strides that were made in expanding local educational institutions; one such effort
resulted in the building of the Riley School. During his tenure on the school board the city schools
witnessed other significant developments in South Bend. Not only was there an increase in
enrollment and growth in the student body but the standards of education also improved
dramatically. South Bend eventually occupied second place in the numbers of children receiving a
quality education in the state of Indiana.[11]

Ennis R. Austin (1863-1951)


Ennis R. Austin has been described as an architect of high ideals and a progressive nature. He
attended high school at Waterloo, Iowa, followed by a full course in architecture at Cornell
University, graduating in 1886. He began his architectural career in the offices of the then wellknown firm of Le Brun and Sons, after which he worked four years at the Tiffany Glass and
Decorating Company. In 1892 he came to South Bend and joined Wilson B. Parker forming the
partnership known as Parker and Austin.
In 1912 he entered into his partnership with Shambleau, and the architectural firm assumed the
name Austin and Shambleau. The firm designed many significant buildings and houses in South

Bend. Among them were the Tower Federal Building, the South Bend Tribune, the YMCA and the
Federal Post Office. Most of their significant houses were designed in the 1910s and 20s.[12]

Norman Roy Shambleau (1888-1975)


Norman Roy Shambleau was born in Canada and lived in London, Ontario until he was eleven
years old. When he was seventeen he moved to South Bend. In 1908 he began a brief partnership
with local architect, Ernest Young. In 1912 he entered his partnership with Ennis Austin.[13]
Architecturally, Shambleaus work stood out locally as quite distinctive. Shambleau was locally
influential for his Prairie-influenced residences modeled after the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. After
1915 he designed many outstanding period revival structures including houses, schools and
commercial buildings. His vision of South Bend was that it would develop into a city and
community of beautiful homes and magnificent buildings.[15] In this context, the James
Whitcomb Riley school remains as a fine example on the South Bend architectural landscape of the
beauty of local architectural heritage as conceived by Shambleau and his long-time partner.

Henry H. Christman
Christman was born in South Bend on February 18, 1869 and lived here all of his life. At the age of
eighteen he was engaged as a carpenters apprentice under Chris Fassnacht. In 1894 Christman
embarked on the contracting business for himself. Soon, through his diligence and honest effort,
the H.G. Christman Company expanded and eventually had offices in Detroit and Lansing as well
as South Bend. By 1900 Mr. Christman was regarded as a leader in his field and was responsible
for the construction of numerous local significant buildings.[15]

Conclusion
Rileys first high school class graduated in June, 1931 with one hundred students receiving
degrees; in January, 1932 the school graduated the second class, consisting of fifty eight students.
During the first decade of its existence the James Whitcomb Riley school grew and developed into
a full-fledged high school.[16] It shared the goal common to educational facilities of its day of
maintaining high standards and constantly striving for increasing knowledge. It has remained in
use for similar goals up to the present and is a good example of a historic building that has
retained its utility over time. It is worthy of preservation and designation as a Local Historic
Landmark, not only as an example of an exceptional architectural type and as a fine educational
institution, but also as a significant example of the development of South Bends past and present
social fabric.
Dr. Sushmita Hodges
Research Historian

Notes
1. South Bend News Times (10-26-24)
2. South Bend Tribune (3-26-25)
3. Ibid
4. Ibid
5. South Bend Tribune (10-8-27); South Bend News Times (10-25-27)
6. South Bend Tribune (1-16-29)
7. South Bend News Times (2-23-25)

Fred M. Holycross
Director

8. Charles Roll, Indiana One Hundred and Fifty Years of American Development. Vol. 3 (Chicago & N.Y.: The Lewis
Publishing Company, 1931):172-173.
9. South Bend Tribune (3-26-28)
10. South Bend Tribune (6-22-32); News Times, (7-6-27)
11. South Bend News Times (7-6-27)
12. Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory (South Bend: Historic Preservation Commission, 1982):29; South Bend
and The Men Who Have Made It, Compiled by Anderson and Cooley, (South Bend: The Tribune Printing Co.,
1901):285
13. Sites and Structures Inventory:33
14. South Bend Tribune (5-6-27)
15. South Bend News Times (4-21-27)
16. Hoosier Poet (Riley High School Yearbook) April 26, 1932

Related Interests