Observation Elementary School
The four-story orange brick Cleveland School of the Arts building on Stearns Road in University Circle is highlighted by three ornate terra cotta entrances. It was built as Observation Elementary School in 1910, and according to the Cleveland Restoration Society, it is one of the oldest school buildings in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. On November 20, 1907, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the Board of Education purchased about 88,000 square feet of land between East 107th Street and Marlborough (now Stearns) Road to accommodate both John Hay High School and the new normal school. While John Hay awaited another 20 years of planning and debate, the Normal school was built by 1910 and supplying teachers to the growing public school district. During the earlier days of public schooling, the school districts were responsible for training teachers; normal schools were utilized for this purpose.
Specifically, teacher-education efforts in Greater Cleveland resulted from the Common School Law of 1836. There was a model school, forerunner of laboratory schools, for children under 14, where prospective teachers of both sexes could gain some practical experience. Cleveland school superintendent Andrew J. Rickoff established the Cleveland City Normal School in 1872, which opened in 1874 on Eagle St. Students practiced in actual [normal] school settings supervised by ‘critic teachers’ to develop their teaching skills and be ultimately hired to teach in the Cleveland schools. By 1914, the state of Ohio passed legislation which governed the certification of teachers and imposed additional standards regarding their preparation. Colleges and universities began to play a role in the teacher preparation process.
In Cleveland, the Senior Teachers College was the name under which the joint committee of the school board and Western Reserve University had previously offered some preparation for secondary teachers. Later a department of education was established in Mather College, where both Mather and Adelbert students could take professional education courses for certification. In 1928, the university’s School of Education was managed by both the Board of Education and the university. In 1945 the School of Education was disbanded, and courses for practicing teachers were transferred to Cleveland College where professional education courses required for state certification were taken. During this transitional period of teacher education, the normal school became “Observation Elementary School” providing access to a real school setting to coordinate teacher training at nearby Western Reserve University, hence the name Observation.
In 1981, the building again underwent a role transition. The Cleveland Public Schools were working to comply with several components of a complex federal court order to desegregate its schools. One of the strategies employed by the district was the creation of thematic and magnet schools featuring unique and focused coursework for students. The Cleveland School of the Arts was identified and located at the Observation School facility. The school’s proximity to all the cultural resources of University Circle made the site and ideal choice. The Arts school prospered at the Stearns Road location until 2009 when it was moved to a temporary school building awaiting its redevelopment at this site.
Meanwhile, a team of preservation experts from the board and staff of the Cleveland Restoration Society toured the school in 2007 and urged the District to consider creative solutions through careful study of programmatic needs, the current facilities, and the Ohio School Facilities Guidelines for school renovation, which would enable the preservation of significant portions of the original school structure. School officials were not open to reuse the historic building. The district opted to demolish the historic school for a new facility in the same location. The building is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places, although it is likely eligible, nor is it a local Cleveland landmark, but it is also eligible for that distinction, in the opinion of the Cleveland Restoration Society.
A presentation at the Cleveland Planning Commission in November 2011 showed the design of the new Cleveland School of the Arts building, which includes an intention to salvage the historic school’s terra cotta for use on the interior of the new building. Terra cotta removal started in late December 2011. Demolition is underway.