Hodgen Elementary Demolition Pending

Update: The school was torn down and replaced with nothing. Some in-fill, that I do like, was built on the lot facing Lafayette Avenue in 2018-19. Historic image added in November of 2022.

Hodgen School, Front Elevation, May 1930, Missouri History Museum, P0900-12269-01-8n

Much of the Gate District, formerly the Compton Hill neighborhood, has been obliterated. But much to my delight, much of it still survives. If the St. Louis Public Schools system has its way, it will lose a critical component of the area that has stood since the late Nineteenth Century. Hodgen School, a simple, but stout Italianate school building that I’ve heard is the oldest school building left in the city of St. Louis, is slated for demolition in order to provide a parking lot for the new Hodgen School. A parking lot? Are they kidding?!

So the Hodgen School might not make it into architectural history books, but its restrained style, with Tuscan pilasters and architrave cut an elegant profile in this corner of the city that so needs a sense of real style.

The school’s sign shows that the pediment was most likely not originally painted.

The circular niche, an interesting oddity, seems to be awaiting the return of the bust that once sat on its plinth.

On the facade, cut-stone rosettes accent the red brick walls. The detail might be a little rough after one hundred years, but they are still well-preserved.

These windows must bring huge amounts of light into the classrooms. Speaking as someone who went to a high school that resembled a dungeon, I wish I could have attended school at such a light-filled space.

The back side of the school, visible from I-44 (how I’m most familiar with the building) is an interesting mix of curved stairwells and what might be the curved back of the library.

Below is what presumably is the outside of a staircase.

I like this picture of the back of the building; what is the large, semi-circular structure sticking out of the back?

Rather conveniently, a window has been left open, exposing the interior of the building to the elements.

I include a picture of the new Hodgen Elementary: a boring, bland building that is so typical of the 1990’s in American architecture. Where are the Michelangelos, Berninis and Sullivans of the past? I know, they’re dead, but do we have to have such antagonism to solid, elegant and timeless architecture?

Below, I have included a Sanborn map showing how dense the neighborhood once was, and how the elementary school fit in so perfectly into the fabric of the area.

So you don’t care about historical architecture? That’s fine, but realize that Proposition S, passed by voters in November, specifically mentions only upgrades to public schools. Read the text here. As you can read at the Post-Dispatch website, Hodgen will be torn down in the wave of new repairs made with the money from Prop S. While it does not say specifically if the District will use Prop S money to tear down Hodgen, but if they do, I believe they are violating at least the spirit, if not the law, of Prop S, and its purported use of taxpayers’ dollars.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. samizdat says:

    "The school's sign shows that the pediment was most likely not originally painted." Note the rust. This pediment and the attendant corbels and turns and assorted leafy shapes are all of fabricated galvanized steel, as is the cornice. What a shocker: the elites (though only in status; certainly not intelligence and sense) screw the people out of our heritage. Again. Shameful. Anyone for a tar and feathering party? Too violent for the "New Civility(tm)"?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can't they turn this into a community center? I have seen that done with old school buildings in other cities.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The old building isn't used as a school anymore because it was unsuitable/unsafe to use as a school. Your article about the building is interesting, but very much romanticized. Despite all the windows, the school was dark, with toxins, and outdated plumbing, electrical capacity, and HVAC. It would be very costly to get the building habitable, despite the history and lovely facade. The district, in this case, was right to rebuild. Even though the new school isn't nearly as lovely on the exterior, the interior is perfectly designed as an elementary school.

  4. Chris says:

    I'm under no romantic notion that the school doesn't have toxic junk to clean up. But considering how many newer buildings have been built with toxic Chinese drywall, holding that against an old building doesn't seem to be fair, does it?

  5. Mickey says:

    Hodge was a beautiful school with large windows that did let in so much sunshine. I went to this wonderful old school during late 1950’s and early 1960’s fond memories still pop into my mind when I think of going to this historic school.
    The round portion on the back of the building was the office area. The lunch room was in the basement and it came with asbestos warped pipes that the students could reach and pick off while they ate their lunch, thanks for the good old memories.

    1. Joe Blan says:

      I too went to Hodgens and remember it with nice memories. Shame that it had to be torn down. It surely could of been renovated for a Good Project! I think that the rounded portions were not Offices, but the Stairs or staircases that went to and from each floor! Been a lot of years, could be wrong but I don’t think so Chris. Thanks for doing this article!

  6. Ann says:

    Was there ever a black rod iron fence going across any portion of the school? We’re talking 50 years ago, as I went to this school for kindergarten, I believe; it could have been the first part of first grade. I have a memory of walking to or from school and I don’t remember clearly. I do remember beautifu, bright sunlight beaming in through the windows and at my desk playing with cement glue on my fingers. My family used to live over on the corner of Lafayette and S. Compton for a short while.

    1. cnaffziger says:

      Yes, there was, according to an old photo from the 1930s I found. I’ve added it to this post.

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