Saturday, April 10, 2010

80 Years of Maine East High School

This post comes a little late - Maine East actually opened March 24, 1930.

1941 Maine East

The original Maine Township High School first opened in 1902 and will be the subject of a future post. The history of Maine Township High School East began in October, 1924, when the school board passed a resolution ordering the purchase of sixty acres at Potter and Northwest Highway. This choice went against the wishes of the township voters. This must have remained the subject of controversy, because the school board subsequently in December set a special election for May 23, 1925 to allow voters to decide on the site. Ultimately, the same site was chosen, the former Hoffman Farm - smack dab between the two towns - and out of walking distance for anyone. Until Maine West was opened, Maine High was identified as being in "Park Ridge or Des Plaines, IL"

Maine East with Gym
Dempster & Potter - Maine East High School - Vogel Card

The conflict between Des Plaines and Park Ridge was evident nowhere more than in the high school. Describing the 1902 building, Mark Henkes later wrote,
since 1892 there had been a rivalry between Des Plaines and Park Ridge concerning the all-important location of Maine High School. The Des Plaines Village Council drew a petition that year asking that Park Ridge unite with Norwood Park to build a school so Des Plaines could locate one of its own.
Even though Maine High School created somewhat of a bond between Des Plaines and Park Ridge, it obviously went only so far. A distinctive competitive spirit between the two villages would continue in respect to the high school as well as other fields which would evolve with the progression of expansion.
This conflict dragged on into the 1920s:
Another hot issue during the '20s was the Maine High School. A petition signed by 500 Park Ridge parents in 1921 asked that Park Ridge be able to build a high school because of what they called unsatisfactory busing of pupils to and from Park Ridge.
By this time of course veterinarian Edward Manuel had departed with his horse and buggy service and livery stable and had graduated to the bus service we now call United Motor Coach. Many Park Ridge pupils took the train to the high school in Des Plaines, but Manuel did have a morning and afternoon route for the students.
Dr. Earle, president of the school board (and a Des Plaines resident), argued that departments would have to be dropped because there would not be enough students to fill classes. He also said that Maine Township was one of only three townships in Illinois that offered free bus service, even though it was against the law. "Would Park Ridge be able to provide its own free transportation?" he asked.
Park Ridge retorted that the town would double its student population in two years, thus requiring a high school of its own. A high school would also enhance the growth of the town, they said.
In the end, Park Ridge did even better. In 1930, Maine High School was moved from Thacker Street in Des Plaines to Potter and Dempster in Park Ridge. Now it was Des Plaines' turn to bus its pupils.
Maine East High School 40's

Of course, Park Ridge would still bus its pupils too. With the site selection squared away, next came the design of the building itself. A $500,000-$750,000 - in 1927 dollars - building was announced in September, 1927. It was the product of Zook, McCaughey, and Chubb, a Park Ridge firm best known for the Pickwick Theatre and St. Charles Municipal Building, as well as the Rand Park Fieldhouse, 1930 Des Plaines Post Office (now pawn shop), and numerous other buildings in the region; the firm later specialized in schools. But this was perhaps the most elaborate and beautiful of their school buildings.
Designed after the Powell Library at UCLA, Maine East is an exuberant exercise in Spanish Revival mixed with Art Deco and Prairie influences. It is easily one of the most beautiful buildings in the area, and one of the most historic and beautiful high schools in the Chicago Suburbs. When built, it was also one of the largest, tallest, and most elaborate buildings around. The building clearly follwed the trend established by Dwight Perkins' Schurz High School, which had revolutionized the design approach to high schools when it was built in 1910.
Maine East
The unconventional, state-of-the-art design focused on a central entry tower capped with a green skylight. The new school's design was to feature a paved court in the Italian Style graced with a fountain, which the 500 seat cafeteria would open onto.  It also featured a 40'x80' library finished in knotty spruce with floor to ceiling windows for ample natural light and views of the countryside, with alcoves and conference rooms, designed to hold 7,000 books, expandable to 20,000 with a balcony. Now the study hall, this room had attached senior history and English classes, so that students could easily access reference works. There would be a 80x100 foot gymnasium with 500 fixed spectator seats, and a small girls gym which could open onto it, seating up to 1000 spectators. A $50,000 40'x75' swimming pool with seating for 350-500, to house Maine's national champion swim team. An auditorium seating 1,000, designed to accomodate a future 800 seat balcony, with an orchestra pit. 48 rooms - 6 English, 5 Math, 4 commercial, 2 mechanical drawing, 3 shop rooms, a public speaking room equipped to show film, 3 history and civics, 4 foreign language, 2 sewing, 1 cooking, 5 laboratories, an accounting room complete with bronze fixtured cashier windows, and 1 science room. A central tower with a radio room in the roost and a band/art room below it. The school was divided in two wings, with boys lockers and washrooms in the South wing and girls in the East. And the whole school was set far back with dramatic, beautiful landscaping including a formal garden. Blueprints were provided for another wing and other additions. Voters passed the plan by an 8 to 1 margin.
1955 Maine East
The school was designed to accommodate 1000 students when it was built, and to easily accomodate additions. Old Maine had been built for 250, and was later expanded to 650. Maine was built over the course of 1929. Unfortunately, owing in part to cost overruns and the onset of the Great Depression, the auditorium - which would have rivaled the Pickwick in size and beauty - and fountain were dropped from the plans, set aside for a future date that would never come (although this would still be the right place to build a future addition, adding visual balance to the old Gym). The swimming pool came very close to being cut. The school's opening itself was jeopardized. Luckily, the principal marshaled a $100,000 loan and was able to convince board members to go on full steam ahead. It opened March 24, 1930. In November of that year, Frank Lloyd Wright gave a lecture in the Gymnasium pleading for a greater role of Art in America's schools; he could scarely have chosen a better location. The newspaper noted that although his topic was "New Schools" he instad talked about how the machine age called for a new style in architecture, and that Schools are the appropriate place for that to grow.
Maine East
By 1935 Maine needed to grow, applying for a $60,000 federal grant; matching the original architecture, it would contain 10 classrooms; four on the second floor and the remainder on the third floor, to be used for music. Music rooms were finished with acoustical treatments of pecky cypress wood ceilings and acoustical plaster made to look like stone.
Dempster & Potter - Maine East High School - Cameo Card
In 1938 the township voted on borrowing $50,000 in bonds to pay the township's share of a $150,000 PWA auditorium with 2,200 seats and seven classrooms. The voters overwhelmingly said "no".

Need surfaced again in 1949 as enrollment surged to 1,800 and expected to reach 2,400 in the near future; the principal called for 29 new rooms including science, 6 shops for woodwork, metal craft, electrical, printing, blueprint reading, and mechanical and architctural drawing; music rooms; an auditorium seating 1,850; a new cafeteria; a new gym with a capacity of 3,588; a library expansion; and more shop space. The $2,500,000 proposal was approved by voters, but the same voters also turned against the bond issue, beliving it too expensive and expansive. The plans were further delayed by a government restriction for steel in gymanasiums. However, because the margin of defeat was less than 100 votes, a new campaign was launched and the bond passed the second time.

The addition, by school architecture firm Childs & Smith, who went on to design Maine West, opened in May, 1953, while the Gym and Fieldhouse remained under construction. Again, the design was state-of-the-art modern. The new corridors were softly lit with recessed fluorescent lighting, pastel tiled walls, two murals (one of Noah's Ark, the other of an editorial cartoon) and giant 6-foot bulletin boards inviting posters. The music department's old practice room was replaced with seperate band and chorus rooms with practice studios. The old cafeteria was remodeled into a freshman-sophomore library. And again, the building was built of brick to harmonize with the old building and set in landscaping. Part of it was even an extension to the original building with matching brick and spanish tile roof. The auditorium was graced with a 48 foot wide by 34 foot deep stage and 80 person orchestra pit, while the beige and blue color scheme and upholstered seats made the audience comfortable. The fieldhouse was touted as so large that it could accomodate a basketball game, shotput, pole vault, high jump, broad jump, and track running - all at the same time, while wrestling, shuffleboard, and trampoline events happened in the balcony. Theoretically, at least.

As the baby boom went on, enrollment reached 4,500-5,300 - the maximum comfortable capacity of the school was 3,800 - and the need for a new high school became obvious. A few classrooms were added in a hyphen addition between the old building and auditorium, perhaps the main architectural misstep at Maine East, but at least the historic campus was preserved. This small addition partially covers the original cornerstone; if another addition ever becomes necessary, this would be a good place to put it, as this was where the auditorium would have originally been sited. This would visually balance the original building. Maine West opened in 1959, and Maine Township High School became Maine East for the 1960-1961 school year. Maine South opened in 1964, and more growth came in 1968, as Maine North was built along with additions at East and South.

These additions, by the firm McCaughey, Erickson, Kristmann, and Stillwaugh (the same firm that was once Zook & McCaughey) included a Girl's Gymnasium, new art, industrial arts, occupational therapy, exercise, printing, television, ceramics, and special ed classrooms, in an addition in the courtyard of the school. More shops were added as well as a new pool. The old girl's gym - the original school's gym - was remodeled into a library and classrooms. Part of this addition would have included an addition to the Potter Road side of the school, on the end of the old Gym, which would have destroyed the patio and gardens. History teacher and Maine alum Paul Carlson - who would go on to teach for 48 years at Maine East - led an opposition to save the gardens, and ultimately succeeded. The administration offices were instead located at Maine South. Unfortunately the gardens have since disappeared, and all that is left is a few bushes. Maybe it's time to put them back, as the Paul Carlson Alumni Memorial Garden?

In 1981, the state-of-the-art (and it would be even today) Maine North was closed due to declining enrollments. Outside consultants suggested the older and larger Maine East should close instead, but community sentiment prevailed. A third floor was added to the south end, making it better match the rest of the school. In 1999 science rooms were rebuilt within the school and masonry repairs were undertaken by the ARCON firm. Last year, training rooms were added and some rather unsympathetic windows have replaced older, slightly more sympathetic ones.

The old pool is worth special note - it still exists under the patio outside the gym. It has elaborate, beautiful tile mosaics, but unfortunately can no longer hold water. What is to become of this extraordinary feature?
Some more great pool pictures are at

Although time has altered and eroded many of Maine's details, such as the gardens and the elliptical walkway to the tower entrance, it still stands today as a living, working part of our history; one of few public buildings of its age in our area still serving its original purpose.


  1. I went to Maine West. Not near as beautiful as East
    great video, just slow down , when panning

  2. I went to Maine West too. It's also a very beautiful and unusual school, but not in the same way. However I would say that it was of the same caliber in 1959 as East was in 1929. It's not my video, just one I found on youtube.

  3. Wow that's the old pool? Cool! This one is more cooler than the new one. The new one flooded first floor because the pool is in second floor instead of first.. :(, the best part is we got home early and the bad part is that we weren't able to go to our lockers...:(

  4. I certainly remember the old pool. I was a senior leader in Vormitaaag's freshman PE class. At the end of the hour one freshman boy was trying to finish his laps and everyone else had gone in to shower, he got to the deep end and couldn't go any further, needless to say I jumped in. I told my wife that we had to swim in the raw in those days and she could not believe it.

    1. wow hi im currently going to Maine east, but what year did the pool close down at the basement. ive went to the old pool before and i loved the tiles. my teacher told me they where hand placed each little tile. we also went up all the way up in the tower where you can see pretty much the whole Chicago city

    2. I assume the old pool closed when the new one opened in the 1960s.

    3. You can't see the whole city of Chicago from the Maine East tower. What school are you talking about? You don't write like a high school student...more like 5th grade. Are you sure you meant to reply to this story?

    4. If it was in either 1963 or 1964, I believe that I was that freshman boy (who didn't know how to swim and was using a styrofoam paddle board), but went into the deep end and almost drown. I was in Mr Vormittag's gym class.

    5. We used the OLD pool, in 77?..I remember the metal DEMON statue there.

  5. I went to Maine from 1958 to 1960. In my freshman year ('58-'59) the upperclassmen had the school from 7:00 a.m. to approx. 1:00 p.m. and the underclassmen went from about 12 noon to 5:15 p.m.
    It was crowded but fun. Leaving school in winter at 5:15 was definitely a downer, however.

  6. Dear Webmaster,

    Gary Fox is a happy and healthy 70 yrs old. He went to this site to connect with old friends today and had the pleasure of discovering that the genius who updates the deceased member list had him dying 4 years ago. Thank you for ruining his birthday. Please remove Gary Fox from your dead guy list..a retraction would be nice.

    1. Does this look like the Maine East Alumni site? No, it does not, because it is not. An apology would be appreciated as I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. For that matter, did it occur to you that maybe more than one person named Gary Fox has attended Maine East High School in the past 82 years?

  7. It was wonderful to see the video of the old pool where I swam in a wretched cotton tank suit. I'd forgotten just how detailed the tiling was! It's really a shame that the pool is simply abandoned. I do hope that someday someone will think of a way to showcase its beauty and the nostalgia attached to it. (class of 1963)

  8. What a great privilege to be a graduate of MTHS (1956). I didn't appreciate the school then as much as I do having read it's history. I will never forget Miss Vandyke or Mr. Ford!

  9. Virginia Riser Scott, class of 1956January 2, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    It was interesting to read about the controversy surrounding the building of the new school in 1929. My mother started teaching French and Latin at the old (Thacker) school in the fall of '29 and remembered the opening of the new school very well. There was a snowstorm, making it hard to get to the school out in the open land between the towns, and all the opponents said "we told you so--bad location!" At that time, Maine actually had a teacher of agriculture, and students planted crops in nearby fields. I am very glad the original architecture has been preserved--I think the building has been landmarked but am not sure.


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