Built in the Roaring Twenties to provide an elementary school education for the children of the families that were moving into the fast-growing, southwesternmost neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Moreland Elementary School not only lent its name to that neighborhood, but also became the neighborhood's iconic landmark and its enduring symbol of heritage, transition, and renaissance.
The Van Sweringen brothers knew that a premier suburb required a premier public school system. So, it was not surprising that, in 1913, just one year after the incorporation of Shaker Heights, its Board of Education began implementing the Vans' vision, undertaking an ambitious building program that proposed to place a new elementary school in every neighborhood of the village. When neighboring East View Village was annexed in 1920, the school building program was extended to that new territory, which soon became home to Shaker Heights' southernmost residential neighborhoods.
Prior to the annexation, children in East View Village had attended elementary school in a small, four-classroom building located on the west side of Lee Road between South Moreland (Van Aken) Boulevard and Kinsman Road (now Chagrin Boulevard). That school building continued to be used by the Shaker Heights Board of Education for several years as an elementary school for children living in Shaker's southwesternmost neighborhood--later known as the Moreland neighborhood. By 1924, however, the Board recognized that the building had become inadequate to accommodate all of the school-age children living in this fast-growing area of Shaker Heights. Accordingly, in that year, the Board decided to build a new, larger elementary school just to the west of East View School, on a parcel of land sold to it by the Van Sweringens.
Charles Winning Bates, an architect from Wheeling, West Virginia, who had designed other school buildings in Shaker Heights, was awarded a contract by the Board of Education to design this new school. Bates designed it in the neo-Georgian style, matching all other Shaker school buildings of its era. Three stories tall, brick, and with a grand entrance facing South Moreland (Van Aken) Boulevard, the new building was to have 28 classrooms--seven times as many as old East View School, as well as a teacher's restroom, a principal's office, a medical room, and an auditorium-gymnasium. After the Shaker Heights electorate approved a bond issue in November 1924 which had earmarked $425,000 for the new school building, construction commenced in 1925. By 1926, the building was completed, and on March 15 of that year the first children moved out of East View School and marched a few hundred feet into the new building, which was initially called Lee-Moreland School.
From the late 1920s until the late 1950s, Lee-Moreland School, which was by 1940 simply called Moreland School, served a largely Jewish population living in the Moreland neighborhood. In addition to providing a quality public education to the neighborhood's children, the school building also served as a meeting place for many Jewish organizations, as a place where sacred Jewish days were celebrated or commemorated, and even as a religious school for Temple Emanu El and the Cleveland Hebrew School. Beginning around 1960, as many Moreland neighborhood Jewish families moved to suburbs north and east of Shaker Heights, they were replaced largely by African American families, many of whom were moving out of Cleveland and its overcrowded school system, and into Shaker Heights with its nationally recognized, excellent school system.
Racial transition in Shaker Heights presented challenges to many institutions in many places throughout the city, but perhaps none greater or more important to the city's future than those faced by Moreland Elementary School. Fortunately, the school was headed in this era by a principal who was more than up to the task. Orville Jenkins, who grew up in southern Ohio, attended college at Bowling Green University, taught as a teacher for a number of years, and then became principal of an elementary school in the Toledo, Ohio, area. In 1956, the Shaker Heights Board of Education hired him as the principal of Moreland Elementary School. Jenkins, who purchased a home on Scottsdale Boulevard in the Moreland neighborhood, was soon recognized as an excellent principal, and, as well, a fiery advocate for integrated schools. When the Moreland neighborhood began undergoing racial transition in the 1960s, Jenkins was among the leaders of the neighborhood who engaged in concerted efforts to stop blockbusting, to keep the neighborhood stable, and to preserve the high standard of community life there. He helped found the Moreland Community Association (MCA) in 1962 and he permitted the new organization to hold its meetings and functions at Moreland Elementary school. He instituted an individualized instruction program at the school, designed to help children to learn at a pace most appropriate for them. And, he became a friend to all children in the school. Jenkins was said to have known the first name of every child in the school. He served as school principal, as well as a trustee of the MCA and other community organizations, including the Shaker Historical Society, until his untimely death at age 46 in October 1969.
Despite the efforts of Principal Jenkins, and many others in Shaker Heights, to keep Moreland an integrated neighborhood, by 1969 its population had become overwhelmingly African American, and, according to a November 18, 1969 Plain Dealer article, the number of African American children attending Moreland Elementary School had reached ninety-five percent. The Moreland Community Association, with a goal of seeing Moreland Elementary School re-integrate, petitioned the Shaker School Board of Education to initiate a program to bring in white children from other neighborhoods of Shaker Heights to achieve that. Ultimately, Shaker Heights BOE, after a series of public meetings, instituted a voluntary busing program (the "Shaker Plan") in the city, which, with modifications in the mid-1970s, resulted in a somewhat improved racial balance at Moreland in that decade.
At about the same time that the voluntary busing program was instituted in Shaker Heights, the city began suffering a decline in the number of school-age children in its public school system and the Board of Education began experiencing financial difficulties in maintaining all of the existing school buildings. To remedy this problem, the Board of Education ultimately adopted a school reorganization plan that led to the closing of Moreland Elementary school in 1987, despite vigorous protests from the Moreland neighborhood. While Shaker Heights initially considered selling the old school building for private redevelopment, it was eventually persuaded to preserve it because of its importance to the Moreland neighborhood's history and identity. In 1993, after a renovation process was completed, the former Moreland Elementary School became the new main branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library.
More than two decades have now passed since Moreland Elementary School was transformed into the new Shaker Heights Public Library. While the historic building now serves a different purpose in the community, the purpose it serves is still an educational one. And, perhaps more importantly, at least to the Moreland neighborhood, the building continues to be a focal point for the neighborhood, a beloved landmark, and an enduring symbol of the neighborhood's heritage, transition, and renaissance.