Central School on Kalamath St between 10th and 11th
As we visit each of Lincoln Park’s Lost Landmarks, we may develop a richer understanding of the world we live in, and of the role and significance this neighborhood played in Denver’s development as a great city. One of our earliest lost landmarks was the Central School, part of the original “Across the Creek” School District Number 2. It was built in 1880 and a true product of Denver’s Victorian and Modern aspirations. Central was the pride of the neighborhood and would serve three to four generations of our pioneer families. In addition to the elementary students, it was home to the first “West High School” until the grand Franklin School was opened in1884. By the forties, the building, and many like it, were considered unfit for the needs of the day, and was demolished in 1952 to make way for Greenlee Elementary.
In Denver City’s early years, the population was dominated by men without familial obligations, or without intentions to stick around after finding fortune on Pike’s Peak. It was known as a saloon filled city, and little consideration for the children surfaced until after Denver’s future was made more secure by the arrival of the railroads in 1870. That same year, the Territorial legislature addressed the need “to provide for Common Schools,” and implemented a local funding/control model we are familiar with today. Although the second district was the first to have a dedicated public school building in Auraria, it never could match the resources enjoyed by District 1. The separate districts ensured a disparity that persevered over the years. By 1880, West Denver’s industrial expansion required a wave of school construction to meet the burgeoning demand for classrooms. Without the actual funds, local citizens approved a $25,000 bond to get Central built. From Smiley’s History of Denver we have this record of the construction: “Central”- South Eleventh Street, between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues; cost of lots, $2100; main building of five rooms erected in 1880 at a cost of $21,717; an addition of four rooms built in 1889 at a cost of $13,585.”
The the Rocky Mountain News announced “The New Educational Building on the West Side” opening:
“On South Eleventh Street, way out beyond the county jail and but a short distance from the Denver and Rio Grande shops, one of the handsomest and best finished public school buildings in the city was completed at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. It is of brick trimmed with Manitou stone, is two stories and basement, tin roofed and with champion seats and desks for two-hundred sixty-four pupils. Besides, it has a large recitation room on the second floor and airy rooms in the basement for the family of the janitor. Every room is warmed from a hot air furnace, the ceilings are fourteen feet and the ventilation is perfect…It is called “Central” because the city is expected to extend two or three miles beyond in the next two or three years…One item that will distinguish this school from the others in the city is that the blackboards are all blue. It is believed to be the first school building in the west to use blue blackboards.” (RMN,12/5/1880)
Central was an anchor for neighborhood children that received instruction in a modern curriculum, adding “music and drawing, morals and manners, and cleanliness” to the three R’s. “Central had it’s spelling bees, literary contests and debating societies and there were many group activities in which the parents and public participated.” The faculty and administration were pillars of the community and credited with instilling the knowledge and values that lead to their pupils’ later successes. Notable Central school teacher, Emily Griffith, would become a local and national hero for her work in vocational training. The discovery of her connection to our La Alma Lincoln Park Neighborhood is timely, considering the current construction on the new Emily Griffith Technical College facility here at 12th and Osage.
Students also fondly remembered Ms. Amelia Helander, who taught here from 1892 to 1909. From a retrospective published in the Denver Post just prior to the demolition in 1949 we are treated to a warm characterization:
“Miss Helander, a petite blonde who dressed daintily in ribbons and ruffles, was, her pupils said, ‘Pretty as a flower.’ She taught the primary grades second to fourth. ‘I never sent a child to the superintendent’s office for punishment,’ says the wiry alert little lady who now keeps up her nine-room house on St. Paul Street. ‘I always worked that out myself and never used the whip but once. That was for a habitual truant.’ One day after he had run away, Miss Hinmann, the principal, brought in a switch and said, ‘I want you to use it on that boy.’ After the switching, Emily Griffith said, ‘on such a beautiful day as this, how could he help it?’ But he never ran away again.” (POST 1949, Sept 4)
“Wallace C. Irwin, nationally famed author and editor, got his elementary education at Central. He recalls how he once dropped a little dog in the superintendent’s wastebasket. ‘Upon being called to to his office,’ says Irwin, ‘that kindly martinet had asked, ‘Wallace, do you think you are a privileged character?’ and I answered promptly, ‘No, sir.’ That was all. But it said volumes. We had no privileged characters and plenty of wholesome education was beaten into our heads.'” (POST 1949, Sept 4). Old friends and neighbors were reunited to celebrate the institution just before it fell.
While it was considered state of the art when constructed, the movement to stay modern would lead to Central’s demise. In a rather opinionated newspaper article from the day, we hear a call for progress, “It’s too bad children aren’t interested in antiques. If they were, they would consider it a distinction to attend Central School at W. 12th ave. and Kalamath st. It was built in 1880 and is the oldest building still used by Denver Public Schools. ‘Look at the pure Victorian architecture,’ the antique-lover might say. ‘You can’t get a coat of grime like that on a building in less than half a century. Look at that open center stairwell, you know, they don’t build them like that anymore. Some non-sense about fire hazards.’ Having the fire escapes open out of the cloak rooms is unusual too. Nowadays they have the idea they should be more accessible.” (RMN 1948, Aug 9)
The article concludes, “In Denver, 14,000 children are in schools with no libraries, and the same number attend schools without gymnasiums and with too little playground space. Eleven thousand boys and girls live in areas live in areas with no recreation facilities in their school buildings. Schools intended for elementary children are being attended by 1700 junior high students. There are 1500 elementary students in old schools built for high schools. These are some of the facts being stressed by the Board of Education in seeking support for the 21-million-dollar school bond issue for new construction to be voted on Oct 11th.” (RMN 1948, Aug 9)
“In accordance with a long-time Denver custom for naming its schools for past, deceased superintendents this school will be called the Greenlee in honor of Louis E. Greenlee, superintendent of District No. II from 1904-1907 and later assistant superintendent of Denver’s City School system.” (POST 1949, Sept 4)