Seattle Public Schools, 1862-2000: Rainier School

  • Posted 9/11/2013
  • Essay 10579

This People's History of Rainier 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 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.

Rainier School

The Jackson Street School was built by a realty firm (Eshelman, Lewellyn & Company) to stimulate growth in the Rainier Heights neighborhood. The one-room schoolhouse was located on Market Street (today's 23rd Avenue) near Jackson and King streets. The firm leased it to the Seattle School District. It was named the Jackson Street School because it was in the Jackson Street Addition, not because it was on Jackson Street. Owing to its location on Market Street, it was often referred to as the Market Street School. The school opened in 1885 with just 20 students, but its enrollment grew to 192 by 1889.

In order to hold all the students, a number of annexes were established in other leased buildings. From 1885 to 1890, the school district also paid rent to Dr. DeVoe and D. S. Kelly for use of their buildings. A house owned by W. B. Burgess on the east side of Market, between Jackson and King, was also rented. By September 1888, the district also employed a room over the Morford's Store.

The Seattle School Board, confronted in 1889 with the need for more buildings throughout the district, called an election to approve $150,000 for new construction. The levy passed and a permanent building for Rainier Heights was initiated.

In January 1891, a new Market Street School opened across the street, to the south of the old school, with 422 pupils in grades 1-8. Shortly after opening, it was renamed the Rainier School. The wood frame building, considered magnificent in its day, had a tall cupola, attractive arched windows, and a wide porch with four pillars. It contained 8 classrooms and had a full basement with a sandstone foundation.

In the same month the new school opened, an annex opened with one class each of grades 1-4. This annex, known as Olympic School, was needed until 1908. Even with the annex, more classrooms soon were needed just six months after Rainier opened, the school board decided to build a 4-room addition to the building.

One tragic incident in the history of Rainier School stands out. During a school event on the night of June 22, 1894, the flimsy costumes worn by some children suddenly caught fire when a lamp was overturned. A young teacher, Amanda Hildebrant, grabbed the flaming lamp and carried it outdoors. She was fatally burned but no one else was hurt.

In 1900, the original porch was removed and an addition was built on the north side of the school. Enrollment soared to a high of 1,086 in 1902-03, making Rainier the largest grade school in the city. A kindergarten was added in 1914.

By the early 1920s, Rainier School was an old, outdated structure. Another addition was made in 1930, yielding a 20-classroom building. However, the 1930 addition did not make up for its limitations. There were still no manual training or home economics facilities. Students alternated between Colman and Washington in the afternoons for those lessons. Rainier became a K-6 school in 1938 when 7th and 8th graders transferred to Washington School.

At that time, news that Rainier would close was met by a protest from over 900 parents who spoke out against longer walks and dangerous street crossings should their children be sent to other schools. The school district maintained that Rainier could not be effectively maintained as an elementary school because of a district-wide drop in enrollment. When Rainier School closed in 1940, students were transferred to Colman, Leschi, and Mann.

As part of the effort to train workers for World War II production, the district operated an aircraft assembly program at Rainier in 1942. Classes in sheet metal and subassembly work were held in three shifts almost around the clock. Graduates went on to jobs at Boeing. In 1943, the school became the Building Trades unit of Edison Technical School. It was closed in 1957, because it had become a fire hazard, and was demolished to make room for a new building with six woodworking shops.

Around this time, the school board had adopted the name Samuel Gompers High School for a new high school in southeast Seattle (see Rainier Beach). Gompers was a noted pioneer in the labor union movement. Negative public reaction was followed by a letter from the Seattle Central Labor Council asking that the name Gompers be given to a new trades school instead. Thus, the new facility at the Rainier School site was called the Gompers Branch of Edison Technical School. Five portables were installed on the Gompers grounds by 1959. Gompers subsequently became part of Seattle Central Community College and is still in operation.


Name: Jackson Street School
Location: 23rd S & King Street
Building: 8-room wood
Architect: Saunders & Houghton
Site: n.a.
1891: Opened in January; renamed Rainier
1900: Addition (John Parkinson)
1903: Renamed Lincoln on March 7; name returned to Rainier on September 1
1911: Site expanded to 2.07 acres
1930: Addition (n.a.)
1940: Closed as elementary school in June
1943: Reopened as unit of Edison Technical School
1957: Closed; demolished

Name: Gompers Branch of Edison Technical School opens in new building (2300 Lane Street) ca. 1959:
1966: Became Gompers Branch of Seattle Community College
1967: Transferred from district to State of Washington

Use of Rainer School site in 2000
Wood construction training center, Seattle Central Community College


Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002).

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