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Creston Hills Elementary School

Creston Hills Elementary School

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: 1934 | Abandoned: 2008
Historic Designation: African American Heritage Site
Status: AbandonedFor Sale
Photojournalist: Michael Schwarz

In the early 1930s the Creston Hills neighborhood development was well underway with more than 40 new homes already built. Construction on the neighborhoods had started to slow as the new neighborhood became more established. The area was developed as a strict whites-only area of town at first, but the demographics would soon drastically change.

With the neighborhood growing the decision to erect a school came about around 1930. By 1931 a temporary two-room building was moved from the Harmony School grounds to a new foundation. Finishing touches to the interior commenced the week after. Around 50 children were expected to enroll in the brand new school from the nearby addition. It sat facing the city park with plenty of room for children to play and future expansions.

Creston Hills Elementary School

It wasn’t long before they outgrew the small structure and a more permanent and sufficiently sized building was fought for in 1933. A $32, 950 estimate was given on blueprints and materials for a building of dark brick. But funds for the building were harder than originally thought for the construction of the enlargement. This caused plans to be delayed several times and by November of 1933 it was the only building on a 14-project building program that had not had a contract let. In addition to lack of funds there was also an issue regarding the location. The school was to be built on the Southeast corner of the park, but Civic Club members called on the park board asking for a transfer of the location to the northwest corner. Requiring a technical transfer of property deed.

An agreement was made that reduced the cost of building to move the location to the Northwest corner of the park. But still there were more roadblocks, this time internally. The board members were split in a vote on whether or not to award the contract then or wait until the protest period was over. Funding was secured through the WPA and the following year work on the school would start.

Creston Hills Elementary School
Construction of Creston Hills Elementary School ca. 1934

Officially dedicated on November 9th 1934 with an open house and program. Conferences with teachers as parents toured their soon to be children’s classrooms.  Doris Packham, a sixth grade student that would be enrolled that year made the speech of acceptance. It included four lavatories, seven closets, and 117 students within its first year open.

Creston Hills Elementary School
Completed Creston Hills October 30, 1935

In the 1940s the demographics of the Creston Hills neighborhood had begun to change drastically. What was once a strict white development had started to turn into a predominately Black neighborhood as “boundaries” changed slowly throughout the decade.

In 1948-49 the school had once again become overcrowded and an addition for the school was underway, costing to start $93,121. This was the case for many schools in Oklahoma City built in the early years of the 20th century. As the population exploded, especially in the Creston Hills area the schools needed to expand to accommodate the growing population. A five-room addition and parking lot was added and officially open in 1950.

Creston Hills Elementary School was predominantly an African American school although it was integrated. It was the only school in the OKCPS system at the time with a minority-majority and it stayed this way even until its closure with a minority enrollment of 95%. In 1956 the minority-dominated school had an all-White faculty which often arose issues among parents, teachers, and students. The Black Dispatch reported that OKCPS began looking into the possibility of installing an all-Black faculty so that “philosophy of “as the student population goes so should the teachers go.”

Rumors circulated that the all-White faculty had put in requests for transfers to other schools to which Principal Evelyn Borah responded “A request for transfers is a personal matter, and a teacher’s prerogative.” Also pointing out that this was the season when most teachers put in transfer requests anyways. She followed it up by stressing that she did not believe any transfer requests were made out of personal bitterness or unhappiness in teaching in an integrated school. And Gilbert Robinson Director of Personnel with OKCPS backed up that statement by saying every teacher was given the option to continue teaching when the school became integrated or be transferred and all chose to stay. Ira D. Hall would become principal of the Creston Hills Elementary School beginning in the fall of 1956. He would head the all-Black faculty and was well qualified to do so.

Creston Hills Montessori Academy (CHMA)

In 1999 Creston Hills Elementary was reimagined as Creston Hills Montessori Academy, a magnet school for OKCPS. Magnet schools were designed to raise achievement scores and reduce racial isolation by offering specialized curriculum. These were referred to as several different names including enterprise, specialty, charter and magnet schools. Montessori, the theme Creston Hills took on is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.

The way this transformation was possible was through a federal magnet school fund. Over the next three years CHMA would receive $556,943 in federal funds. The target of these magnet schools were predominantly Black schools and again aimed at reducing racial isolation, in order to achieve this these schools would have enrollment open to students even outside of the neighborhood attendance zones.. CHMA relied on advice from the Oklahoma City University who provided training on how to implement the Montessori method.
But the first year of CHMA produced numbers less than expected. With the enrollment of 1998 consisted of 293 African American, 2 White, 5 Hispanic, and 1 Native American students. The first year of the magnet school consisted of 414 African American, 38 White, 11 Hispanic, and 5 Native American students. The amount of White students alone was 38 times that of last year, most would think this was a successful turnout but officials were less than impressed with the still very off balanced diversity.
But the magnet schools phased out throughout the early 2000s as well as many school consolidations and to allow for saving money to put towards the MAPS for Kids program. Creston Hills Montessori Academy absorbed around 150 students from one of Garden Oaks but CHMA was amongst one of the schools to fall victim in 2003 that would have all its students transferred to Moon Academy. The building wasn’t vacant for long though before it was in use again.

John Wesley Charter School

John Wesley Charter School began leasing the building in the building in fall of 2003. It served as a high school grades 9-12 and hovered around 100 students give or take. The school received no federal funding making it ineligible to accept transfers. But the school only lasted 5 years closing in 2008. The building has sat vacant ever since becoming a haven for illegal activities and vandals. Many neighbors concerned over about the possibility of a fire being started in the building like many others.

In recent years it has been a huge issue of abandoned properties left by OKCPS and Urban Renewal Authority. The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority got the property from the city in December. Some of these structures include OKCPS Admin Building, Columbus Elementary, Whittier School and loads more. But in 2022 when confronted about the many vacant properties that are piling up code violations, Urban Renewal owner of Creston Hills, said they ARE making attempts to get the building into new hands. “We have been putting signs up in the area to try and find a buyer,” said a spokesperson.

This seems like hardly an effort to get the building into developing hands but there have also been talks that the organization is considering tearing down the accessory structures around the school, but leaving the school building itself intact. It seems like a looming fate for the entire property is demolition like so many others in OKC.

Bibliography

https://www.newspapers.com/image/444467943/?terms=creston%20hills%20school%20negro&match=1

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https://www.oklahoman.com/story/news/2006/04/23/magnet-school-concept-phased-outbrin-city-district-other-options-chosen-charter-enterprise-specialty/61888786007/

https://www.newspapers.com/image/454896244/?terms=creston%20hills%20school&match=1

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[Photograph 2012.201.B0148.0348]photograph1934; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc313710/accessed February 7, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

[Photograph 2012.201.B0148.0347]photographOctober 30, 1935; (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc316217/accessed February 7, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

https://www.newspapers.com/image/444473585/?terms=creston%20hills%20school&match=1

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https://okcfox.com/newsletter-daily/empty-creston-hills-school-building-causing-headaches-for-officials-residents-elementary-abandoned-oklahoma-city-okc-urban-renewal-authority-alliance-economic-development-code-enforcement

 

Michael Schwarz

Starting from a young age, I’ve always loved exploring. I can remember venturing off and scoping out the houses being built in the developing neighborhood right behind my house. As I got older, I found myself appreciating the work and love that went into architecture and just being excited to pass by the beautifully designed places in downtown.

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Michael Schwarz

Starting from a young age, I’ve always loved exploring. I can remember venturing off and scoping out the houses being built in the developing neighborhood right behind my house. As I got older, I found myself appreciating the work and love that went into architecture and just being excited to pass by the beautifully designed places in downtown.

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