Lancaster City Culture - Architecture - Reynolds Middle School

Lancaster City Culture - Architecture - Reynolds Middle School

Lancaster’s architecture is a significant part of the “feel” of the city and a major contributor to Lancaster city culture. After my recent post about our renovation of the 3rd floor bedroom that used to be Ruth’s, my friend Rose commented that she wondered what kind of view Ruth might have had when she looked out the three large windows in that room. Unlike many city streets, which are lined with rowhomes on both sides, our street (or at least these few blocks of it) has rowhomes on one side, and Reynolds Middle School on the other side.

To be honest, when we first considered buying this place, we weren’t sure what it would be like to have a middle school across the street. But we’ve come to love it for many reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful architecture of the school itself.

John F. Reynolds Middle School was designed by C. Emlen Urban, one of Lancaster’s premiere architects. Urban’s work largely shaped the look and feel of the city during a 45-year career, from the late 1800’s through the 1930’s. During his career, he designed rowhomes, mansions, churches, schools, public, commercial and industrial buildings. Among his most famous buildings were Lancaster’s City Hall, Southern Market, the Watt & Shand Department Store (now the Lancaster Convention Center), the Hager building on King Street and the Griest building.

According to a wonderful history of Urban’s architectural legacy in the city, “His designs were stylistically eclectic, reflecting the influence of Queen Anne, French Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts and Colonial Revival periods.” (from To Build Strong and Substantial: The Career of Architect C. Emlen Urban).

The Reynolds school, originally called “West Junior High School” was built between 1927 and 1929. Ruth was born in 1925 – so the school was being constructed when she was just a toddler. Here’s a description of the school from “To Build Strong and Substantial”:

Reynolds Middle School (West Junior High School) 605 West Walnut Street • (1927-1929) This three-story rectangular building has an exceptionally long 21-bay south façade comprised of a nine-bay central pavilion, with three sets of entry doors, flanked on each side by six-bay wings. Built in the Gothic Revival style using light gold-colored brick with patterned brick panels, the building has a crenellated roof parapet. The walls and doorways are decorated with cut-stone ornamental motifs, including open books, oak leaf garlands and torches. Although designed in a Gothic Revival style that was popular for school buildings, the building’s angular forms and tapestry brickwork show the influence of the more modern Art Deco style. Designed in 1927, opening exercises were held on February 22, 1929. This structure may represent the last major public building designed entirely by Urban.

Ruth was nearly 4 years old when the school opened in 1929 and the older kids of the neighborhood started to attend school there. Ruth, too, would have eventually attended Reynolds, after finishing at Walnut Street Elementary (now a commercial building a few blocks away). After Reynolds, she would have gone on to high school at McCaskey.

But in 1932, when Ruth was seven, her parents separated (a major scandal in those days), and her father was granted sole custody of Ruth, on the condition that he send Ruth to a girls’ boarding school. So, Ruth was sent away to Ogontz. The few times that she returned to this house (where her mother continued to live) for holidays or for brief summer visits while Ruth was still a schoolgirl herself, the Reynolds school and grounds would have been empty and silent. The view out her third floor bedroom windows would have been simply of the building itself, the lovely trees that grace the grounds, and the street below.

These days the place hums with the escalating energy and voices of hundreds of 6th through 8th graders as they near the end of another school year. In a few weeks, this beautiful old building will once again be empty and silent, awaiting the return of students in the autumn, in a pattern that’s been repeating here for over eight decades. See some of the beautiful architectural features of the building in this short photo tour.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa ruths story

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