Walnut Park

Schools and Public Buildings

Before the turn of the century, the children of Walnut Park had to walk to Baden to attend school. Walnut Park School was opened in 1900, at Robin and Thekla Avenues, in a small frame structure. Rapid growth of the community made larger and more modern educational facilities necessary, with the result that the present Walnut Park School at 5814 Thekla was opened in September, 1909. It had 18 classrooms, two gymnasiums, an auditorium and a block square site which provided ample playground space. The school was designed by architect William B. Ittner at a cost of $161,188. Also designed by Ittner, was the Mark Twain (originally Harney Heights) School at 5316 Ruskin Avenue. This school was opened in 1912 and cost approximately $200,000.

Portable elementary classroom units were built at Davison and Bircher in 1921, and were replaced in 1923 by the new Cyrus P. Walbridge School at 5000 Davison Avenue. This school was named for a former mayor of St. Louis and was designed by R.M. Milligan, with a construction cost of more than $300,000. It occupied the site of one of the last remaining apple orchards in Walnut Park. The Peter Herzog School at 5831 Pamplin Avenue in North Pointe is named for a man who served in the public school system for half a century. Its building was completed in 1936 after designs by Ernest T. Friton.

A movement for a public high school in the northwestern part of St. Louis was begun before World War II. At that time, students of the Walnut Park area were required to attend Beaumont High School, necessitating a long trip daily between home and school. By the late 1950's, Beaumont became somewhat overcrowded, causing a revival of the Northwest High School movement. In 1959, a $4,500,000 bond issue for the school was defeated as was another one for $2,500,000 in 1961.

A six acre site for the school was acquired by the Board of Education through condemnation in 1960. It was located in the 5100 block of Riverview Boulevard, adjoining Davis Park. Finally, in 1962, a bond issue of $2,000,000 was approved for the construction of the high school, requiring revision of previously prepared plans. The building was completed in 1964 at a final cost of $3.6 million, had a capacity of about 1,200 and lacked a swimming pool and sufficient gymnasium and auditorium space. A twelve-room addition, increasing its capacity to 1,600 was constructed in 1968.

Earliest secondary school in the area was Laboure High School at 5421 Thekla Avenue, which was opened as an all girls' school in 1942, continuing as such until 1952 when it became coeducational. Laboure reverted to its present all girls' status in 1965. It shares a five acre campus with St. Mary's Special School for Retarded Children, which opened in 1953, in the former St. Mary's Orphan Home. The orphanage was built in 1900 on a tract acquired two years previously from the Wipperman estate. Its $70,000 cost was contributed by an anonymous donor and its copper-domed bell tower soon became a neighborhood landmark. It was closed in 1952, to be reopened as the special school. Recent additions have included an auditorium, a natatorium and a gymnasium.

Originally located at 5778 West Florissant Avenue in 1917, the Walnut Park branch library now occupies a $200,000 structure at the southeast corner of Gilmore and West Florissant. This building was erected in 1971, after a citizen's committee had objected to several alternate sites.

Another long awaited facility was the Walnut Park Community Center at 4981 Thrush Avenue, which was begun in 1973. After a long delay, work was resumed and the center was opened in the fall of 1978. A day-care center, in an adjoining building, was placed in operation in March, 1979. The buildings and an out door recreation area are maintained by the City. Existence of the center is attributed to the Walnut Park Church and Community organization.