ABOUT THE BUILDING
Designed by George Washington Maher, an architect at the center of the development of the Prairie School movement at the turn of the 20th century, the main block of this building was built in 1900 as a school to serve the East Side of Blue Island. It remained in the School District’s control until the 1990s, when it was sold to a private entity and eventually left abandoned in the early 2000s. The property was reacquired by the School District in 2019, with the District’s plans for the building currently unknown.
WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT
The building is one of several structures in Blue Island designed by noted architect George Washington Maher, and one of just 3 still standing. As a principal in the development of Prairie School architecture his influence was regarded as “profound and prolonged and, in its time, certainly as great as was [Frank Lloyd] Wright’s.” It was said of Maher and his associates that their work attracted “more attention and caus(ed) more comment than any other architectural development in America.” The Prairie School was America’s first attempt at producing an indigenous architecture, and this building exhibits a variety of important features of the style, including simplified geometric forms, deep eaves and spare surface decoration.
This building was named after Benjamin Sanders (1815-1881), who came to this area in 1840 and in 1846 with his wife Elizabeth purchased all of the land between what is today Western Ave. and Union, Division, and Vermont Streets. Sanders first worked as a carpenter and farmer, later serving the community as one of its first lawyers and then as the first village president when Blue Island incorporated in 1872. He was a trustee of Worth Township and one of the organizers of Calumet Township in 1862 and served as one of its trustees. As the building chair of the Cook County Board he helped to establish Cook County Hospital in 1866 and rebuild the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
– Some content contributed by Ken Jellema
The building’s exterior masonry walls appear to be in good condition, as does the roof over the main block of the building – the condition of the flat roofs over the building’s additions are unknown to us. Almost all exterior windows and doors have been boarded up, and a temporary fence has been installed around the perimeter the property. The condition of the building’s interior is currently unknown, though images from a relatively recent real estate listing show that, at least at that time, it appeared to require an extensive renovation to make the building usable.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Our hope is that School District 130 will renovate the building and use it to suit their needs – whether it’s put back into service as a school, used as administrative offices, or a combination of the two. To have an anchor of Blue Island’s East Side once again filled with life, as well as inject a much-needed collection of jobs into the community, would benefit the city as a whole and save a significant piece of American architecture from falling into further disrepair and potentially being lost forever.