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Third Ward’s history embodied in school building on Elgin Street

School of Art and Architecture College students create exhibition about Yates High and Ryan Middle schools

Houston's Third Ward has changed through the decades. Neighborhood institutions have come and gone through the years, but one of the community cornerstones still standing tall is a red-brick school building at 2620 Elgin Street.

This public school has served Third Ward residents since 1926. Originally, it was the site for Jack Yates Colored Senior High School, the city's second school for African Americans.

In 1958, Yates moved to a new home and the campus became Ryan Colored Junior High School - renamed Ryan Middle School following desegregation.

To celebrate the building and its inhabitants longstanding service to Third Ward residents, University of Houston faculty and students created WorkingShop, a multi-faceted exhibition detailing the school’s rich history. The exhibit officially opened during a public reception on March 24 at Ryan.

WorkingShop is a collaboration between students in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and the School of Art's graphic communication program. Faculty oversight is provided by professors Patrick Peters (architecture), Cheryl Beckett (art) and Carroll Parrott Blue (research). Blue is a Yates alumna.

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The exhibition will be based in a site that once served as Ryan's woodwork/vocational shop. Students are designing and building its components, which include:

  • Timeline wall detailing major Third Ward events

  • Wall with images and audio detailing key homes, businesses and residents in the community

  • Recreations of two Third Ward barbershops: Grovey's and Sir John's Hair Palace

  • Display focused on Heman Sweatt, plaintiff in historic civil rights case Sweatt v. Painter

  • Wall dedicated to the community's churches and monuments

  • Wall detailing the history of the building housing Ryan Middle School

  • Workshop machines that were used in the school's vocational courses

  • Display honoring the school's principals, alumni and its history

  • "Staircase of Excellence" - a stairway containing a graphic narrative focused on academic excellence

  • Recreation of former Yates High School principal William S. Holland's office

  • Plans for remodeling Houston's Emancipation Park by Ryan Middle School's art students under the direction of Ryan instructor Anna Bass and mentored by the Houston Chapter of the National Association of Minority Architects will also be showcased.

While WorkingShop offers Houstonians an informative peek into the past, it also offers UH students a chance to use skills they had not applied to previous projects.

"When students begin working in a collaborative, inter-disciplinary group, they begin to realize they have specializations," Peters said. "They begin to discover skill sets that perhaps they had not utilized fully. It's a very informative process."

In addition to discovering new ways to integrate their skills, students also are rewarded by creating a culturally-enriching exhibition. As they construct and design the exhibition, the university's students are receiving a firsthand lesson in the historical significance of the institution and its surrounding neighborhood.

timelineLisa Garrett, a graduate graphic communication student, is among the student teams working on the Third Ward timeline wall. She said she's learning about architectural processes from her teammates but also is discovering much about the community adjacent to UH.

"I'm from Pasadena, Texas, which is nearby. Still, I didn't know a lot about the Third Ward," she said. "It's been exciting to become familiar with the community's history. That's a nice bonus for all of us who are working on this project."

Garrett is among the 16 students participating in the design and construction of WorkingShop. Students are split evenly into four teams. Each team consists of one graduate graphic communication student and three undergraduate architecture students.

"For students, this project is a great opportunity," said Alex Lara, architecture student. "We're actually designing something and seeing it come together. Most of the time, we design projects that are never built. It's a nice feeling to actually create something that will be part of the community and impact lives."

Funding for this project has been provided by UH's Texas Learning & Computation Center and Educational Technology and University Outreach.

Ryan Middle School is a Vanguard Magnet Program and is part of Houston Independent School District's Apollo 20, a program designed to improve the academic achievement of students in HISD schools, and to create models for excellent teaching and learning for replication throughout the district.

"Ryan's strength is its unquestionable innovative past combined with its current innovative push to recapture that excellence and be the middle school of choice for all of Third Ward middle school student," said Michael McKenzie, principal of Ryan Middle School. "This exhibition is an amazing display of what Ryan is and what Ryan was."

WorkingShop will be on view at Ryan Middle School through May 1. To arrange to visit the school campus and exhibition please contact Shon Stewart at 713-942-1932 or sstewar5@houstonisd.org

—Mike Emery

Related Links

Houston Chronicle article - UH exhibit focuses on Third Ward history, people

UH Moment: “Ryan Middle School”

Graphics Communications program, School of Art

Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture