Coventry School

Stand just to the left of the P.E.A.C.E. Arch where Coventry Road intersects with Euclid Heights Boulevard. Then look east toward the slope with the playground on the left. That's where the "real" Coventry School stood for nearly 60 years. This 1919 building, either Tudor Gothic or Colonial Revival, depending on who you ask, was one of many Cleveland Heights schools torn down in the mid 1970s. Realistic concerns about condition and maintenance–combined with currently popular, new-age notions about open classrooms and community spaces–culminated in the sweeping demolition and new construction of many Cleveland Heights University Heights schools. Only two of the resulting "modern" buildings (Fairfax and Boulevard) are used today as public schools. The reconstructed Taylor Road School is a multi-use student facility, while the new Coventry School is leased by the Board of Education to a variety of civic, educational, and non-profit organizations.

The original Coventry School was a wonderful and quite unusual building. Wonderful because of its great architecture and the memories retained by its thousands of alumni. Unusual because of how it nestled beautifully into the side of a hill. The structure consisted of three floors formed more or less like a Capital L. The top two floors of the L's center comprised the auditorium; directly below was a partly underground gymnasium-small, dark and somewhat creepy.

Looking at the accompanying floor-plan illustration, you can see that the longer side of the building bordered Euclid Heights Boulevard and the shorter side bordered Washington Boulevard. (At that time, Washington Boulevard ran all the way through to Coventry.) What you can't see is that the Euclid Heights side was a full story lower, and thus one entered the second floor from street level on the Washington side. There also was a main, center-hall entrance at the front, which students seldom used-perhaps because the doors bordered the principal's office. And what kid wants to go near a principal unless compelled?

Another of the building's unusual features was a mysterious tunnel that ran from the Euclid Heights side under the school and into a courtyard area on the lower playground. The tunnel was used primarily to house children's bicycles and provide janitors access to the bowels of the school. At the non-Euclid Heights end of the tunnel was a cement play area-perhaps 60 square feet-with three-story walls on three sides. Although it was quite reminiscent of a prison courtyard, it was a great environment for battle-ball which, for many decades, was played every morning before school and after school. Imagine a less liability-minded age when a sixth-grader wielding a lethal rubber playground ball could get away with "wiping out" a hapless and much smaller third grader. Trust us-it happened regularly.

Equally distinctive were the two playgrounds: an upper playground bordering Washington Boulevard and a lower playground bordering Euclid Heights Boulevard. A long, curving ramp–perfect for dangerous, high-speed skateboarding–connected the two playgrounds. Of course, the playgrounds themselves were none too safe either, with hard asphalt surfaces everywhere and several high-rise "monkey bars." Such were the days before litigation ruled the world.

Another feature worth noting was that, in the school's early days, Cleveland Heights' rapid growth forced the Board of Education to create a number of free-standing quonset buildings for use as temporary classrooms. One of these short-lived structures is visible in a photo accompanying this article. In the same picture, you can see how Washington goes through all the way through to the intersection with Coventry and that there is no Heights Library. The library was built in 1926.

In one sense, Coventry may have been just another school. It also is true that a strong sense of enthusiasm, community and volunteerism existed throughout the replacement building's life as a public school (1976 to 2006). However, to the many teachers and children who passed through its halls–as well as those who appreciate fine architecture and local history–the original Coventry School truly was special.

Images

Coventry School Upper Playground, ca. 1958

Coventry School Upper Playground, ca. 1958

The addition to Coventry and the shift in elevation is highlighted in this photo, as well as a school playground we would not see today. Architect Franz Warner's creative usage of an oddly shaped parcel allowed for playgrounds at two different levels, making the most of an awkward site. This photo was taken from what is now the east edge of the parking lot along Washington Boulevard. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

View of Lower Playground, ca. 1971

View of Lower Playground, ca. 1971

Directly behind the pyramid of kids you can see a house that bordered Rock Court, which is now part of the large parking lot that serves Marc's. Image courtesy of Coventry School View File Details Page

Architect's Rendering

Architect's Rendering

Coventry was one of many Heights school buildings designed by Franz C. Warner. Warner's designs were more dramatic than those of his successor, John Graham, who would design Oxford, Canterbury, Monticello and Roxboro Junior High, as well as many of the seamless additions to Warner's buildings. The District's 1916-1917 annual report shows that the school board felt that up to 5% of the cost of new school construction should be spent "in making the building artistically attractive." It felt that there was "abundant evidence, photographic, descriptive, and statistical, that fortunate suburban communities like ours, all over the United States, are becoming more liberal in beautifying school buildings. "It is a wise expenditure: for it reflects not only upon youthful taste, but also upon actual property values." With this mindset we can see why so many of the District's buildings were designed the way they were. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

Coventry School Upon Completion

Coventry School Upon Completion

Coventry was one of four schools in the Heights school district that were demolished and then replaced with new schools bearing the same name. The original building opened in 1919 with a price tag of $519,375. An addition along Euclid Heights Boulevard, completed by 1922, was designed to match the original architecture. Coventry was not alone in this. Taylor, Fairfax, Noble, Oxford and Heights High also received additions that matched the original buildings so flawlessly that only an examination of blueprints can show which sections are original ones, and which ones were added later. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections View File Details Page

Coventry School Floor Plan

Coventry School Floor Plan

Coventry employed a design concept that architect Franz Warner also used at Taylor and Noble Elementary Schools: a large auditorium with a stage located above the gym. These gyms also included locker rooms and showers. Inclusion of these amenities in elementary schools may have been a way for the buildings to function more as a community focal point than merely an elementary school. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

Coventry School Viewed from Top of Heights Art Theatre, 1922

Coventry School Viewed from Top of Heights Art Theatre, 1922

Note how close to the intersection the school sits compared to its successor. Also noteworthy are that 1) Washington Boulevard ran all the through to Coventry Road, 2) a small temporary classroom building sat on what later became the upper playground, and 3) no structure yet occupies the site that, in 1926, became the Cleveland Heights Library. Image courtesy of City of Cleveland Heights View File Details Page

Aerial View of Coventry School, ca. 1960s

Aerial View of Coventry School, ca. 1960s

An addition to Coventry along Euclid Heights Boulevard added eight classrooms to the original twelve. The three-story addition proved vital for properly serving the growing enrollment, particularly from the duplex-rich neighborhood north of Mayfield Road. This photo shows homes along Rock Court which later gave way to parking. The gas station at the corner, replaced with a bank in the 1970s, is the second one on the site. The first one was a Gulf station that was designed to look like an English cottage. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Coventry Classroom, ca. 1967

Coventry Classroom, ca. 1967

Coventry was like Taylor, Fairfax and Noble: a large building with multiple additions. Located at the confluence of neighborhoods like Euclid Heights, Mayfield Heights and the Forest Hill development along Washington Boulevard, Coventry's construction was not unopposed, with neighbors fighting a bond issue used to fund it. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

Coventry School, Washington Blvd Side

Coventry School, Washington Blvd Side

Not only did Washington Boulevard originally continue all the way to Coventry Road, its median was also the right-of-way for a short streetcar line. Real estate promoters used this short-lived rail line to encourage home-buyers to commute to the streetcar line that snaked up Cedar Hill, along Euclid Heights Boulevard, then north on Coventry before heading east up Mayfield Road. With the demolition of the original school, Washington Boulevard became a cul-de-sac. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

Coventry School, 2006

Coventry School, 2006

One of four buildings that shared a common design, the second Coventry opened to elementary students in 1976. The "open classroom" concept, coupled with the exterior architecture, would not endear these new buildings to the community. With declines in enrollment, Coventry was closed as a school in 2006 amid much controversy. Since then the building has been repurposed to house a number of non-profits and start-up companies. Image courtesy of CH-UH City School District View File Details Page

Audio

An End of an Era

Daniel Landau shares his memories of attending Coventry School and recalls how he felt seeing the school torn down. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Chris Roy and Eric Silverman, “Coventry School,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 24, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/445.

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