David S. Shull A.I.A.
1701, North Ave., E., Baltimore, Baltimore City
Gompers School, at the intersection of Broadway and East North Avenue, was designed and built during a period from 1904 to 1906 as a public high school and remained as an educational facility until its closing in 1981. The flat-roofed building has four floor levels, and is roughly square in plan. Designed in the classical idiom, the building ‘rests’ on a granite base which extends up to the first floor line covering all sides with the exception of the rear. A medium-tone red brick laid in Flemish bond makes up the body of the elevation, broken only by a continuous band of limestone at the third floor line, and a regular displaced fenestration pattern. There also exists a pronounced architrave-like limestone and stucco band at the roofline. The entablature is completed by a horizontal parapet cap of limestone. At the center of the principal elevation protrudes the main entry, which is tripartite in arrangement. Above, a flush, stuccoed pediment is supported by four 24’ high columns of the Doric order. The floor plans are symmetrical in composition about the north-south axis. The assembly hall is located at the very center of the structure on the first and second floors. At the basement level the gymnasium occupied the center directly beneath the assembly hall. Its floor was excavated lower than the general basement floor level so as to permit more height for activity. About the perimeter of the building the classrooms are arranged, so located that each classroom enjoys an abundance of natural light. Most of these rooms still have the original wood floors and a stamped metal ceiling. The art room, located above the entry foyer on the third floor, has north light provided by the windows and a skylight, with pitch to conform to the solstice of the sun. The interior wood trim used throughout the building is from quartered white oak and originally finished to resemble mahogany. Nearly all the original slate blackboards (also framed in oak) still remain.
Gompers School, originally called Eastern High School, is historically significant for its association with the progressive movement that dominated public education in Baltimore in the early years of the 20th century. The period from 1866 to 1900 was a time of ‘arrested development’ for the city’s public education program. The reform of Baltimore’s City Charter in 1899 resulted in the appointment of its first Board of Education separate from the pressures of local ward politics. Under the new system, the professional standards of teachers and principals were raised, a progressive curriculum was introduced, and the city began to move its schools from the crowded and poor environment of rented spaces in warehouse structures to new school buildings. Their interior arrangements were those of a far more complex program and being conceived as monuments to learning and respectability, the new schools had built into them the philosophy of health and productivity. Gompers School is the first major school building to be constructed under the new "progressive" spirit. Unlike such previous major school buildings as Baltimore City College, 1896, and Western High School, 1895, this building is characterized by a series of classrooms ringing an open court to allow maximum ventilation and light. In response to the recent Great Fire, the Gompers School, like other public buildings of the period, was built utilizing the latest in fire safety techniques.