Iowa Heritage Digital Collections
State Library of Iowa

052_Park Avenue School


052_Park Avenue School


This is a page from the collection "Bicentennial Reflections: History of Des Moines Public Schools, 1876-1976" by Dr. Robert R. Denny, published by the Des Moines Public Schools in Des Moines, Iowa in 1976.



File Name



50 1893 a high school was started on the third floor. In the general consolidation of 1907 Oak Park joined the Des Moines Independent School District and sent its high school pupils to North High. It continued as an eighth grade school until the opening of Warren Harding Junior High. From that time it has been a six grade plus kindergarten school. In the 1930's extensive remodeling was done and the big domed belfry and third floor sections were torn cut. Our enrollment has held steadily through the years with the peak for 75- 75 coming in April with 523 students reported. In 1970, the staff initiated a program of Individually Guided Education, one of the first in Des Moines, and in Iowa! Along with the staff of Sabin School, this school pioneered in what is popularly known today as IGE. The program continues to be supported by the staff and by the community, a tribute to the timeliness and adaptability of the school to current educational trends and needs. In the spring of 1974, the school received a blow when it was discovered that a section of the brick wall was weakening from age and from the weight of decorative stone around the top of the building. That portion of the building was evacuated immediately and two sides of the brick exterior were hurriedly removed. Despite all this and while awaiting the determination of its future, the structure has continued to serve as one of the largest attendance centers in North Des Moines. Former students and staff members attend the traditional reunions in large numbers, the most recent of which was held this past May. Time has run out on the old school full of memories for so many, and on the community which has so loyally preserved it. Principals who have been at Oak Park Are: 1907 - 1920 Bertha Smith 1920 - 1933 Adelaide Laird 1933 - 1949 Olney Weaver 1949 - 1953 Maurice Lewis 1953 - 1968 Herbert Levenick 1968 - Joan Sherman PARK AVENUE SCHOOL S.W. 9th and Park Ave. Grades K-6 Dates of construction 1885 One-third 1914 One-third 1950 One-third Site 5.8 acres The first school in the Park Avenue district was on Ninth and Broad and was called Belle School, after Samuel Belle, the first teacher. One source of information states that this school was built in 1868. It was a long brick schoolhouse and was used for the upper grades. A small wooden house was used for the kindergarten. In 1890 the kindergarten part was moved to Ninth and Pleasant View Drive and became the home of Mr. Marsh. The old brick building was used for many years as a boarding house kept by Mr. and Mrs. Cotton. It was also in 1890 that the east part of what was called the South Building was built on Ninth and Park Avenue, on land formerly owned by the Baag family. According to information gathered by the students in 1944, this school had two rooms. One room had about sixty pupils and two teachers; the other room had forty pupils and one teacher. In 1905 or 1906, the west part was built on, referred to as the South or "old" building. It was not difficult to tell that this building was constructed in two pieces. In 1909 Park Avenue was taken into the Des Moines Public School System and the district purchased the farm home of the Baag family. This home had been constructed during the Civil War and was used for many years for the kindergarten and some of the first graders. It stood where the auditorium now stands. In 1914 the old section of the New Building was built and the Wycoff house and the Ryan house were bought and moved off in order to enlarge the playground. Four trees were planted in front of the school as tributes to the memory of Harry Chambers, Frank Ore, and George and Lester Hartman, who died serving in France in World War I. Two of these markers can still be seen in front of the school, although only one tree remains. In 1919 Mr. Mitchell became the school principal. The school at this time continued to have grades kingergarten through eighth. In 1923 Lincoln High School was built and the seventh and eighth grades were transferred to Lincoln as well as some of the teachers. Mr. Mitchell continued as principal at Park Avenue until 1939; he was also principal at Ft. Des Moines and Maple Grove. Park Avenue had its first full-time principal in 1949 when Miss Feme Thorne was assigned. Through the years, homes were purchased and the playgrounds gradually became what they are today. Students who attended Park Avenue in the 1930's and 1940's recall that the lower playground was a ravine and that ashes from the stokers, tin cans, etc., were thrown there. Leo Dagle (1932-38) recalls that punishment meted out to offenders at that time was to "walk the beat" — this meant marching the prescribed number of laps along the fence line that bordered the dump. Shirley Hall Pascuzzi (1937-42) also remembers the dump, however, Sally Hall Fisher (1942-49) does not, so perhaps we can conclude that sometime in the later *40*s the ravine was filled and the playgrounds were finished as we now know them. Construction for the new addition began in 1948 and at this time the old Baag house (called the North Building) was torn down. It was 83-85 years old and the teachers remember that it had an unfinished dirt-floored basement with a stream of water running through it called "the moat." New teachers were initiated by taking them on a sightseeing tour through "the moat."