Significant Structures | UI's Colonel Wolfe School could be headed for demolition

Significant Structures | UI's Colonel Wolfe School could be headed for demolition

CHAMPAIGN — Colonel Wolfe School is an imposing edifice.

"A very symmetrical layout, very ordered and clear in its form and quite handsome," said Susan Appel, a retired professor of architectural and art history at Illinois State University.

Standing in front of the locked-up school with lightning dashing north of her, the PACA president noted that there were four classrooms on each floor, a beautiful arched entryway and decorative yellow symmetrical brickwork.

"Considering the years, it looks to be in very good shape," she said.

But its future is in doubt.

Urbana campus spokesman Robin Kaler said the UI is exploring its options.

"In November, we conducted a solicitation for an equal value trade of the property, as it is outside of our master plan and has significant deferred maintenance issues," she said. "We are in conversation with the selected respondent to the solicitation."

The school at 403 E. Healey St. was constructed in 1905 and operated as a public school until 1964, according to PACA's Tom Garza.

A year later, the University of Illinois Foundation bought it. Colonel Wolfe had been used as an elementary--education research facility by the College of Education, then as a nursery for special-needs and gifted children.

At the turn of the past century, there was a building boom. Gregory School was built in 1898; Colonel Wolfe and Columbia School were built in the same year, 1905. Lawhead followed in 1907 and Dr. Howard in 1910. In 1914, the high school on Green Street (now Edison) was built. All but Lawhead were designed by the same Champaign architectural firm, Spencer and Temple.

Appel admires Colonel Wolfe's craftsmanship.

"It's a well-built typical school of its day, but there are very nice touches, like the yellow brick patterns throughout against the red brick overall. Each section of classrooms is clearly delineated on either side of the recessed central entry," she said. "The outer corners of the basement are quoined in stone, and similar quoins (ornamental stone) frame the centrally placed groups of windows on the basement and first floor."

The second story's windows seem lighter without the quoining, so the basement and first story anchor the building, and it gets lighter in visual weight above. Horizontal strips distinguish the stories, echoed in yellow brick strips.

The same yellow brick forms a pattern of diamonds at the tops of the walls, the ornament pulling the eye upward, to the shallow hipped roof with a dormer atop each half and a more ornate one above the entrance, Appel said.

These are nice touches, she said, as they liven up the symmetry of the design. She said it has no specific architectural style.

"It comes from a time when the architecture of many public and other buildings was 'eclectic.' The orderliness is rather classical, but there are touches of other many styles, as in the play of color and ornament," Appel said.

History has to have people to live on, and the school is especially rich in the names associated with it.

First, the namesake, Colonel Wolfe: "A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois" from 1918 called the attorney "a wise counselor, an able advocate, a good speaker and a first-class citizen."

In 1861, following the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers.

"Almost immediately, attorney John S. Wolfe addressed a public meeting in Champaign to enroll volunteers and was chosen to be captain of the company that came to be part of the Twentieth Regiment of Illinois Infantry," the history recounted.

Then the architects: Spencer & Temple. You've seen their work all over town, from the Inman Hotel in downtown Champaign to Noyes Lab on campus, and several other public schools.

And the piece de resistance?

Working for Spencer & Temple in at least the initial design and planning for Colonel Wolfe, Appel noted, was Walter Thomas Bailey. He was the first African American to graduate in architectural engineering from the UI, and the first licensed African-American architect in the state.

After the school was finished, Bailey, a 1904 graduate, moved on to a powerful position at the Tuskegee Institute. He practiced in Memphis and Chicago.

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