OwnerWest Side Grade School
Address301 Center St Decorah, IA 52101
Tour TypeWest Decorah Tour
The building is no longer used as a grade school. Sign over the door indicates; “WEST SIDE EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTER.” (2021 photo)
The West Side School was built in 1939 by the the Decorah Independent School District, with 45% funding by the PWA (Project Works Administration). It was designed by Charles Altfillisch with construction by E.L. Castle and Sons of Marion, Iowa. The design movement is Moderne and it is constructed of light colored brick and block with a flat asphalt roof and steel windows. It was designed to conform to the circular Center Street intersection on which it sits, and allowed for adequate playground land west of the building. There are four classrooms, a principal’s office, a music room, and a large recreational room or gymnasium with a stage in the basement, along with the heating plant.
In the summer of 1938, the Decorah Board of Education proposed replacing the two- story, wood framed school building on Center St. that had been built in 1892 and housed 90 to 100 students. A successful July 1938 PWA grant for $16,200 required a $19,000 match to be approved by the district voters. The $35,000 proposed school would be completely fireproof. The Decorah newspaper editor promoted the bond issue, noting that “it is simple justice for our West Side friends and their children,” calling the existing building “a real fire hazard.” He noted that there would be no tax levy if it passed, since the cost of upkeep and improvements to the present frame structure would match the city’s cost of a new building.
On October 4, 1938 the bond issue passed 4 to 1; following federal requirements, work began eight weeks later. The new school was completed on Sept. 29, 1939 at a cost of $39,000.
Modifications have been made to the building with a major addition designed by Altfillisch in 1954 and minor changes in the 1980s. The windows were also replaced at an unknown date.
Lydia Svendsen’s NRHP nomination of the Allamakee County Courthouse makes an interesting general comment about Altfillisch and the West Side school Moderne styling:
During the 1930s he completed a number of public building designs in the Moderne Style including the Allamakee County Court House. Other buildings employing this style were the West Side Elementary School, Middle School Gymnasium, and Municipal Swimming Pool, all in Decorah, the Calmar Public School, the Postville City Hall, and the Lansing City Hall. All of these examples except for the swimming pool were rendered in brick and stone. During the same decade he began to develop a preference for the use of reinforced concrete and concrete block. Many of these designs took on the International Style.
The major 1954 West Side School addition has an interesting back-story. On August 7, 1945, a well-trained and experienced architect named William Lockard moved to Decorah, evidently to become a designer with the Altfillisch architectural firm. In 1951, Lockard set up his own architectural firm and is credited with various buildings around the region, including the 1948 Weis Buick dealership on College Drive, a church in Waverly, Iowa, and his own 1954 family home at 301 Pleasant Hill. In 1954 Lockard wrote a very direct letter to the School Board, later printed in the Decorah newspaper, in which he complained that, despite his request, he was given no opportunity to bid on offering his architectural services for the recently announced addition to the West Side School. Another newspaper article paraphrases the School Board responding that they believed that Altfillisch having designed the original 1936 school building, which they were pleased with, was reason enough to offer Altfillisch the contract without considering other architects. The Oct. 6, 2018 Prescott, Arizona Daily Courier obituary of Lockard’s widow Ivanelle Wilhemina Lockard says that the couple moved to Tucson in 1957. Lockard died in 1983 at the age of 78.