History happening: Cedar Rapids schools through the years

From 1915 to 2002, district's 21 elementaries have been through several iterations

This 1928 photo shows Garfield Elementary, opened in 1915 at 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids. (The History Center)
This 1928 photo shows Garfield Elementary, opened in 1915 at 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids. (The History Center)

As the Cedar Rapids school board weighs the future of district buildings, here are some history notes on the 21 elementary schools now open in the city.

Of those 21 buildings, the two oldest are Arthur, 2630 B Ave. NE, and Garfield, 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE. Both of the buildings opened in the fall of 1915.

Their architectural styles are historically unique. Arthur exhibits a “fortress” design, and Garfield is especially interesting with its Egyptian-inspired front columns and entrance.

Harrison School, 1310 11th St. NW, stands out as the architectural gem of all current Cedar Rapids elementary school buildings.

Because fire destroyed the older Harrison School on Sixth Street NW in 1929, and due to construction restrictions during the Great Depression followed by World War II, the 1930 Harrison building was the only elementary built in Cedar Rapids in the 30 years between 1919 and 1949.

Harrison, designed by Cedar Rapids architect Harry Hunter, has excellent English Tudor and Gothic designs. It features a mural on an inside hallway painted in 1934 by William Henning, who was associated with Grant Wood and the public art program of the 1930s.

Harrison was described as having “a most pleasing appearance” when it opened in 1930.


The first batch of new schools to be built following World War II were the (new) Kenwood School at 3700 E Ave. NE, the (new) Cleveland at 2200 First Ave. NW, and Grant Wood (was to be new Buchanan) at 645 26th St. SE.


All three buildings replaced older schools at different locations and all three were open by mid-1951.

Cleveland and Grant Wood were designed to be “sister” schools. Kenwood featured many beautiful “swag” ornamental stone reliefs on its exterior.

The growth of the postwar “baby boom” generation resulted in continuous school building from 1949 through 1973.

The year 1955 saw the openings of Erskine, 600 36th St. SE; Wright, 1524 Hollywood Blvd. NE; and Hoover, 4141 Johnson Ave. NW.

President Herbert Hoover attended the groundbreaking of his namesake school in November 1954.

Wright had a “airplane” form in its design to further acknowledge the Wright brothers legacy. (Orville and Wilbur Wright lived in Cedar Rapids from 1878-81 and attended the old Washington, Adams and Jefferson elementaries before they invented, built and flew the world’s first successful airplane.)

In 1958, Hiawatha Elementary opened at 603 Emmons St., the first school in the district named after a place instead of a person since Kenwood.

new in 1960s

The year 1961 saw the opening of many new Cedar Rapids elementaries, including Grant at 254 Outlook Dr. SW, Madison at 1341 Woodside Dr. NW and Truman at 441 West Post Rd. NW.

Truman features unique “pagoda”-style architectural details. The Truman and Grant school buildings were closed in 1986 and 1987, respectively, and were both reopened in 1990.


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Next in line came Pierce, 4343 Marilyn Dr. NE, in 1965, and Coolidge at 6225 First Ave. SW, in 1967.

Coolidge was designed by local architect Leo Peiffer, and the design had no steps, only ramps.

NEW in 1970s

A large number of new elementaries also opened in 1970.

These included Van Buren at 2525 29th St. SW; Nixon, off Northwood Drive at 200 Nixon Dr. in Hiawatha; and the (new) Jackson School at 1300 38th St. NW.

All three had the exact same architectural design. Jackson was closed in 1986 and reopened in 1993.

The new Johnson school opened in 1970 at 355 18th St. SE. It replaced an older Johnson School that dated to 1910.

In 1973, the new Taylor school opened at 720 Seventh Ave. SW, replacing the old Taylor, built in 1889. Taylor was closed for the 2008-09 school year due to flood damage.

VIOLA Gibson

Viola Gibson School opened in 2002 at 6101 Gibson Dr. NE, just off Blairs Ferry Road NE, as the first new school in Cedar Rapids in 29 years.

The school district still operates two other buildings originally built as elementary schools:

l Polk, 1500 B Ave. NE: The main structure was built in 1970. It is now the Polk Alternative Education Center.

l Tyler, 1212 Seventh St. SE: The main structure was built in 1970. It was converted to Metro High School in 1982.

The district’s Master Facilities Plan — which still is under discussion — calls for the closing of eight elementary schools: Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren.


l Comments? Questions? Contact Mark Stoffer Hunter at mark@historycenter.org. Stoffer Hunter, a research historian for The History Center in Cedar Rapids, writes this column periodically. A lifelong resident of the Cedar Rapids area, Stoffer Hunter has documented changes in the city for 35 years. A graduate of Regis High School, he has a degree in art history from the University of Iowa. He has co-written Cedar Rapids history books and led local history tours for more than 25 years.



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