This People's History of Frank B. Cooper Elementary School is taken from Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 by Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr. That book, published in 2002 by Seattle Public Schools, compiled profiles of all the public school buildings that had been used by the school district since its formation around 1862. The profiles from the book are being made available as People's Histories on HistoryLink.org courtesy of Seattle Public Schools. It should be noted that these essays are from 2000. Some of the buildings profiled are historic, some of recent vintage, and many no longer exist (new names and buildings not included in these profiles from 2000 have been added), but each plays or has played an important role in the education of Seattle's youth.
Frank B. Cooper Elementary School
Settlement of the area west of Pigeon Point along a cove on Elliott Bay began in 1885 with the establishment of a sawmill. Early settlers called the cleared area Humphrey Settlement. In 1905, the Pacific Steel Company moved its mill there from Lake City. The location then became known as Youngstown after the hometown of William Pigott, the head of the mill. The mill company erected small houses for the new workers and a one-room school. Youngstown School stood on the tideflats and was reached by walking over pilings. On opening day a single teacher greeted 70 pupils. Quickly, a second room was added and another teacher hired.
In 1907, West Seattle residents voted to become part of Seattle. That same year, Youngstown School moved to a larger building on a new site. The handbell used to call students to the old building was preserved and used in the new school.
The community grew as more men were employed at the steel mill. Fisher Flour Mill, shipbuilding facilities, foundries, and other businesses soon joined the steel mill, and it was apparent that a larger school was needed.
The design of the new brick building represented state-of-the-art school planning with a combined lunchroom-auditorium and home economics department. Prior to the building's completion, World War I broke out and hundreds more people moved into the community. By the time the building opened, it was overcrowded and the old frame building was also used along with a number of portables. Once again the original bell was moved to the new schoolhouse.
From 1911 to 1926, tiny Riverside School at Detroit between W Juneau and W Marginal Way served as an annex to Youngstown. The school was opened by Riverside School District in 1888. After being annexed into Seattle School District in 1908, it was used exclusively as an annex until its closure in 1926. Today it is one of the few remaining 19th century schoolhouses in Seattle.
Throughout the 1920s, Youngstown's student population continued to grow. Following the passage of a 1929 bond issue, the building was expanded with an addition blended into the 1917 structure. The new addition included six classrooms, two libraries, a gymnasium, and an auditorium-lunchroom. Rooms devoted to art, music, and shop reflected a new organization of the curriculum. Classes were held in the older building and portables during September as construction stretched on longer than anticipated.
The school was renamed the Frank B. Cooper School in 1939 to honor the man who served as superintendent of the Seattle School District from 1901 to 1922. Some community members favored the name change, feeling it was one way of ridding the neighborhood of its bluecollar image, while others regretted the loss of their community name.
During World War II, another influx of workers brought overcrowded conditions to the school. A wood frame structure, containing three classrooms, was added in 1944, paid for by the federal government. Hired as a 2nd grade teacher at Cooper in 1947, Thelma Dewitty became the first African American to teach in the district.
In 1952, the 7th and 8th grades were transferred from Cooper to one of two junior high schools in West Seattle, Denny or Madison. The loss of these grades, the elimination of housing projects, and a declining enrollment since the end of the war suggested there would be plenty of room at the school. This assumption proved to be incorrect as enrollment figures climbed, requiring the addition of two portable classrooms in 1958. In 1964, four special education classes were added. Enrollment peaked in the 1960s at about 780 students. By spring 1973, it had dropped to around 400. In 1975, a bilingual and newcomer program was added for students in grades K-6.
By 1983, Cooper again had a serious overcrowding problem with some classrooms and offices being shared. Some 528 children were crammed into the aging structure. Parents met with district officials and expressed their preference for relocation to Boren, located just over a mile to the south, which had closed as a junior high school in 1981. The proposal was rejected by the board in April 1984. That spring the bilingual/newcomer program was moved to Lafayette and Gatewood. Finally, the Cooper building was deemed dangerous in an earthquake and the school was closed in 1989. Students and staff were sent to Boren as a temporary home while awaiting a new school.
Planning for the new building began in 1996. The district partnered with the city to purchase a new site atop Pigeon Hill. The city plans to develop parkland adjacent to the school.
The new school has second-story bay windows, pitched roofs, and garden spaces, which take advantage of the park-like setting. The building was designed for 535 students. Classroom wings radiate out from a centralized library on the second floor and administrative offices on the first floor. Included are a computer lab, an art-and-science room, childcare facility, gymnasium, multipurpose room, and covered outdoor play area.
Name: Youngstown School
Location: Delridge Way & W Genesee
Building: 5-room wood
1908: Annexed into Seattle
1929: Building and portables demolished
Name: Youngstown School
Location: 4408 Delridge Way SW
Building: 8-room brick
Architect: Edgar Blair
Site: 0.92 acres
1920: Site expanded to 2.24 acres
1929: Addition (Floyd A. Naramore)
1939: Renamed Frank B. Cooper School on February 15
1944: Addition (n.a.) opened in March
1989: Closed in June
Name: Riverside School
Location: Detroit Avenue &
W Juneau Street
Building: 2-room wood
Site: 0.29 acres
1888: Opened by Riverside School District
1908: Annexed into Seattle School District
1908-09: Annex to West Seattle
1909-11: Annex to South Seattle
1911-26: Annex to Youngstown
1926: Closed in June
n.a.: Rented as a residence
n.a.: Sold to renter; still a residence in 1950
By 1973: Used as a storage building
Name: Frank B. Cooper Elementary School
Location: 1901 SW Genesee
Building: 23-room, masonry and metal
Architect: Tsang Partnership
Site: 14 acres
1999: Opened in September
Frank B. Cooper Elementary School in 2000
Address: 1901 SW Genesee Street
Colors: Blue and yellow