May 23, 2011
Lincoln Park School, set to close, has
been heart of its neighborhood
By John Lundy
To people who grew up with it and the teachers
and staff who worked there, Lincoln Park School is more than a school.
It’s the heartbeat of their neighborhood.
“It was our childhood,” said Aileen
Piering, 86, who attended Lincoln Elementary and then Lincoln Junior
High in the 1930s. “Our childhood. We grew up here.”
Added Karin Swor: “It IS the West End.”
Swor, 68, and a member of the first graduating class at what then
was the “new” Lincoln Elementary in 1954, still refers
to the neighborhood as the West End, as did most of the people interviewed
for this story.
The original elementary school was built in 1888-89
at a cost of $52,617 and opened in 1889 with 12 rooms and a capacity
of 504 students. There has been a school in the block between 24th
and 25th avenues West and West Third and Fourth streets ever since,
and that original building has remained at the core.
But oh, how it has changed. Additions were built
in 1915, 1930, 1951, 1959, 1994 and 1999. Other construction projects
occurred in 1966, 1979, 1992, 1993 and 2000. The adjacent Lincoln
Junior High, which was built in 1915, closed in 1982 and was torn
down in 1991.
A tower — similar to the tower at Historic
Old Central High School — marked the original building. It
was torn down so long ago that it’s largely forgotten. All
that remains is a stub that building engineer Rose Oja calls her
‘It’s a maze’
All of those changes give the sprawling 170,956-square-foot
building plenty of character. But that comes with a cost.
“That’s really what makes that building
stand out, and it’s not really a positive feature,”
said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for the school system.
“It makes it so difficult to manage logistically. There are
so many stairwells and so many hidden alcoves.”
Tom Spehar, a second-grade teacher at the school,
said the building is particularly difficult to navigate for the
many grandparents who visit. “It’s a maze,” he
said. “It’s a nightmare to walk around.”
Even people who once knew the building well can
get lost. “We wouldn’t know where to go in this building,”
said Betty Berg, who went to Lincoln Junior High in the late 1930s
and was the school’s secretary when it closed.
Added Charles Hanson, 66, who taught at the school
for more than 20 years and has kept a treasure trove of Lincoln
Park School pictures and documents: “Even people that should
be familiar with the building still get mixed up sometimes.”
The school has been known as Lincoln Piedmont
Elementary School for the past two years while a new Piedmont Elementary
was under construction up the hill. The new school will be an orderly
91,000 square feet with none of the issues of its predecessor. The
two student bodies were carefully brought together to smooth the
“I think the kids are getting used to the
idea that, yes, we are moving to a new school,” said Amy Bodin,
data coach for Lincoln Piedmont Elementary.
No more Elephant Rock
But there’s one thing they won’t be
able to take with them.
“The park,” said Sandy Anderson, a
second-grade teacher at the school. “We’re going to
miss the park. We’ve done a lot over the years with the kids
in the park.”
The school is across the street from the park
that gave the neighborhood its name. A favorite feature, for as
long back as anyone can remember, is “Elephant Rock.”
As its name suggests, the rock about a block up from the school
somewhat resembles an elephant, and it’s big enough to hold
an entire class of second-graders.
“We’d have picnic lunches on Elephant
Rock,” Swor said.
Thanks to its piecemeal construction, the old
school comes with many quirks. In the late 1950s the school system
purchased a mom-and-pop grocery store at 24th Avenue West and Fifth
Street, and an addition with a swimming pool was built over it.
You can still see the store’s tin ceiling above the ceiling
tiles of a teen center inside the school.
Exterior walls of the original school remain,
but they aren’t exterior walls anymore. The 1991 addition
was a concourse built around portions of the 1889 school. Spehar,
who has spent most of his 27-year career at Lincoln Park, takes
his current second-graders through the second-floor concourse and
tells them earlier second-graders used to bounce balls off that
Spehar has taught the children of people he taught
earlier in his career at Lincoln Park. One child in his current
class is the third generation in her family to attend the school.
He thinks about all of the things that have happened inside those
“If these walls could talk,” Spehar
said during a tour of the building. “I mean, if you could
pick up every hand that ever touched that hand railing. It’s
amazing. Everywhere you go, you run into people who went to Lincoln.”