Betty Wheeler Classical Junior Academy, Former Kennard Elementary School

Kennard School, 5031 Potomac Avenue, c. 1930, Photograph by W.C. Persons, Missouri History Museum, N33239

Update: The School Board of the St. Louis Public Schools officially renamed the school after the founder of Metro High School during the summer of 2022, effectively ending the debate over the original name of the school.

Samuel M. Kennard Elementary School has been in the news recently, so I thought I would check it out, considering that it was designed by the firm of Ittner/Milligen. I realized that this must have been the school the woman we met in Walnut Park had mentioned being similar in style to Walbridge Elementary School (Shenandoah is also from the firm’s “Baroque Revival Period”). Like the other two, it was designed by Rockwell Milligen and opened in 1928 and expressed more of the churrigueresque style of Latin America. Note that similar to Mission San Jos? in San Antonio, Texas, the front portal is an explosion of Baroque and even a little Mannerist Revival exuberance, but the rest of the building is plain and restrained.

Perhaps I’ll let it speak for itself in photographs, but it is a showcase of the abilities of St. Louis terracotta artists; the building sits close to the street, so as you come down Potomac Street, it has the effect of towering over you in an almost intimidating fashion.

As I mentioned, the rest of the building is restrained, and I strongly suspect that there was another matching gabled wing planned on the west end to mirror the one seen below.

The rich red terracotta roof tiles are also a nice touch.

The small dormers also break up the monotony of the roof, also of red clay tiles.

Oh, you’re wondering what I think about parents’ efforts to change the name? I honestly am totally disinterested. If they want to change the name, that’s fine with me. I attended schools with boring names and I turned out alright. Chestnut Hill, Barretts, Parkway South Junior, Parkway South High–hardly riveting names, and none of which commemorate any historical figure of any importance, good or bad. I sort of think that is the way schools and streets should be named, after birds, trees, flowers, geographical features, etc. Heck, they just number them in New York City.

It really doesn’t matter to me. Nobody is erasing history by no longer having an elementary school named after a Confederate officer. I learned from a parent whose children attended Kennard that the efforts to change the name actually go back decades; it was not some recent special interest group in the last couple of years. Like I said, name it Cardinal Elementary School or something. The two most prestigious universities in England are named after a bridge over the Cam River and the place where oxen could cross a shallow spot in another river. That doesn’t affect how the amazing educations they provide, does it?

Samuel M. Kennard Residence, 3515 Pine Street, Photography by William Swekosky, Missouri History Museum, N05725

It is sort of interesting that Samuel Kennard owned two very noteworthy houses in St. Louis, the first in Midtown in what is now the middle of the Frost Campus of St. Louis University, also named after a Confederate officer. He then moved to a mansion in Portland Place, which holds the dubious distinction of being one of the few houses on that private street to have been demolished. His daughter’s house, an excellent example of Italianate town house design after the Civil War, was demolished by its owner, the State of Missouri, a year or so ago after a structural collapse.

Kennard Mansion, 4 Portland Place, Photograph by William Swekosky, Missouri History Museum, N07517

One Comment Add yours

  1. I have discrepancies on the history of Kennard School that was
    Posted on September 14, 2020 by Chris Naffziger

    This information is contrary to citations made by Chris.

    In a 1988 50th anniversary celebration book of Southwest High School I have
    a citation there that states that Architech George W Sanger not only designed
    Southwest High School but also the school buildings for Mallinckrodt, Kennard, and
    Cole elementary schools. It was stated that Sanger was a popular architect for
    St. Louis Public schools and may have designed more.

    In a rare and aged copy of the 1957 Kennard Elementary School annual yearbook, the acting school historian, Louise Hope, chronicles the history of the Kennard School building and dedication at 5131 Potomac Ave in South St. Louis, January 27, 1930 in the preface of this yearbook.

    There she wrote that prior to the construction of the Kennard school and its dedication, St. Louis Public Schools erected and operated temporary classrooms on the southwest corner of Kingshighway and Arsenal Streets, and opening these classrooms to 168 students, November 1922, under the guidance of the then principal Miss Beulah N. Baker.

    Although this temporary classroom location was a long way from the new Kennard School building on Potomac Ave, this piece of St. Louis Public Schools real estate where Kennard School operated temporary classrooms, will later become the site of Southwest High School some 15 years later.

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