Then and Now: Lucretia Mott Public School No. 3 and the CommonWealth Building 23 N. Rural Street

Written by on September 22, 2011 in Then & Now - 5 Comments
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With all of the talk of demolition of abandoned buildings, it is encouraging to see neighborhoods take charge of their problem properties and find positive new uses. The proactive residents of Englewood Neighborhood on the near east side have taken their former public school on North Rural Street and found an adaptive reuse as housing.

The Lucretia Mott Public School No. 3, located on Rural Street just north of East Washington Street, was completed in 1905. During the 1890s-1910 this area transformed from a rural setting (thus the street name) into a thriving, then suburban, neighborhood. Contractor W. P. Jungclaus Company built the brick structure for the Indianapolis Public School system for under $43,000. The elementary school was named after Quaker minister Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880), a social reformer remembered for her efforts to end slavery and the promotion of women’s rights. (Indianapolis Public School)

The first open air school in Indianapolis started in the Lucretia Mott School in 1913. The open air movement (also called the fresh air movement) began in Europe and quickly spread to the United States in 1908. In an era rife with tuberculosis and malnutrition, these schools cared for children who were anemic, thin, and showing pre-tuberculosis symptoms. Promoted by the Indiana State Board of Health and the Indiana Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, the schools encouraged fresh air and sunshine, physical activity, balanced meals, and one hour of rest each day. Activities included gardening, manual arts, and handwork. This photograph shows students in their third floor classroom. Nutritious meals were available and public nurses regularly weighed the children to track their progress. Several former students recalled that they hated school in the winter when the windows were wide open. They were given “Eskimo suits,” consisting of itchy, hooded wool coats and pants to wear over their clothes. Many questioned placing the sickest children in these cold conditions, but physicians theorized that fresh air and daylight would improve their health. The open air movement largely disappeared by World War II when tuberculosis was better understood and antibiotics reduced the incidence of the disease. (Indiana Album/From the Indiana State Board of Health)

After many decades of continuous use, the school closed in 1980 and was purchased by The Care Center (now part of Wheeler Mission Ministries). The Care Center provided shelter and services for homeless women and children. After moving this branch, the Wheeler Mission donated the empty building to the adjacent Englewood Community Development Corporation in 2009. Most members of the CDC live in the neighborhood and attend the adjacent Englewood Christian Church. Although the front façade has seen few alterations, the old school looks “scalped” due to the removal of the cornice and dentils. (Google Street View, 2009)

Construction is underway to adapt the school into 32 apartments. The Englewood CDC, along with partner the John H. Boner Community Center, anticipates spending $6 to 7 million on the building, now known as The CommonWealth. The mixed-income apartments will be evenly divided between market rate units, low to moderate income units, and apartments for chronically homeless families or individuals with a mental illness (supervised by Adult & Child Services). Tenants will share the gymnasium and other public spaces.

Learn more about the Englewood Community Development Corporation on their web page and follow the progress of the CommonWealth and other projects on their Facebook page.

Although newspapers too frequently only mention crime and negative aspects of the near east side, there are dozens of success stories like this one. Neighbors in Englewood and the other twenty neighborhoods in the NESCO (Near East Side Community Organization) area are working diligently to improve their part of the city. Learn more about Englewood Neighborhood (bounded by Rural, Michigan, Lasalle Streets and Moore Avenue) in their new book, The Electric Glory of the Near Eastside: The Rollercoaster Ride of Englewood’s Modern History. 

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, send a high resolution scan and any details about the building to thenandnow@historicindianapolis.com.]

Joan Hostetler is co-owner of Heritage Photo & Research Services, a historic research, photo preservation/interpretation, and digital imaging company. She contributes the weekly feature “Then and Now” on Thursdays. 

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About the Author

Joan Hostetler and John Harris own Heritage Photo & Research Services. The company specializes in house and building research and historic photograph preservation, interpretation, archiving, and digitization. Since they see so many cool photographs tucked away in attics and basements, they recently created "The Indiana Album" to borrow, scan, and share hidden Indiana images with the public. Like them on facebook or send them an email to share your photographs.

5 Comments on "Then and Now: Lucretia Mott Public School No. 3 and the CommonWealth Building 23 N. Rural Street"

  1. Joan Hostetler September 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm · Reply

    I forgot to mention that this wonderful project is part of the Super Bowl’s Eastside Legacy Project. Learn more about the project here: http://www.indianapolissuperbowl.com/legacy-project-overview/.

    Speaking of the Super Bowl, if you disagree with permanently renaming historic Georgia Street for the Super Bowl Village and urban outdoor space, please sign the free petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keepgeorgiast/) and join “Keep Georgia Street” on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-the-historic-name-Georgia-Street-Indianapolis/283498898332005?sk=wall). Thanks!

  2. Phyllis Money Brown March 18, 2015 at 8:08 pm · Reply

    As a graduate of school 3 I was wondering what ever happened to the wonderful oil painting of Lucretia Mott that hung outside of the principal’s office. Also in about 1951 or 1952 we buried a time capsule near a flagpole.

    • Joan Hostetler March 19, 2015 at 4:49 am · Reply

      Phyllis, IPS has a wonderful collection of paintings in storage and many still hanging in schools. I know that the Lucretia Mott painting did not stay with School #3.

  3. Janice Foddrill Gearries February 2, 2017 at 4:26 pm · Reply

    I have often wondered what happened to my class mates, graduating class, January 1954. When I saw Phyllis Money’s comment I knew her sister Marilyn was in my class from kindergarten thru 7th grade, at which time we moved to an area closer to Arsenal Tech where I attended 8th grade. School 3 has always been in my heart however and I drive by there often for the memories. Even though I now live in Franklin township. I wrote a poem for a play once while in the fifth grade, “The name of our school is Lucretia Mott,, and we love our school an awfully lot. Our school colors are green and white, and we think our school is alright.” I remember a boy, who we called Buster, fell down the outside basement stairs from the railing one summer about 1948. I have always wondered what the outcome of his injuries were. I saw him fall.
    I remember that our principal was Mr. Norris. What a great neighborhood for kids that area used to be.

  4. Janice Foddrill Gearries February 3, 2017 at 6:06 pm · Reply

    I had the eight grade graduation date wrong. It was Januaryn1955.

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