Happy birthday to Northeast Portland’s McMenamins Kennedy School! The building itself turns 107 and McMenamins is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the landmark school’s renovation and reopening. Come join the big fun and festivities on Saturday, November 12th!
The Kennedy Elementary School building opened in 1915, which was a welcome replacement for the small, one-room portable classrooms from 1913. Kennedy Elementary was the thriving heart of the neighborhood until 1975, when the public school location officially closed, due to dwindling enrollment and deterioration of the building. The school was still used as an occasional, temporary facility for the district, until 1980, when it closed completely. The Neoclassical Italian Renaissance-style building was boarded up and sat vacant for the next 17 years. Its fate was unknown.
But the school itself was never forgotten. Former teachers, students, and community members joined together to save the historic school from demolition. They sustained their efforts for well over a decade, and key partners in the school’s preservation included Agnes Kennedy White, the daughter of J.D. Kennedy (land owner for whom the school is named) and Melissa Darby, historic preservationist.
Mike and Brian McMenamin proposed the idea of restoring the school building and transforming it into a neighborhood gathering place. And highlighting the elementary school’s history. Kennedy alumni, teachers, and neighborhood families were eager to share their memories, photos, and mementos. These wonderful pieces of local history are displayed throughout the school and incorporated into the unique artwork all around the building.
The re-opening day of McMenamins Kennedy School in the fall of 1997 was the kick-off to a new and exciting era. Beginning at 7:00am, the last PTA president, Sharon Kolb, rang the original hand bell that Kennedy School’s first president, Mina Parson, rang on the very first day of the first school year in 1913.
Portlanders were lined up, eagerly waiting for the doors to open at the crack of dawn! Some visitors were no doubt also present for the earlier sneak peak of Kennedy School in June that same year, at the open house held when renovations were still underway.
The grand opening party was four days of festivities. All types of music filled the air: Irish pipers, marching bands, rock and roll, jazz, afro-reggae, R&B, and swing bands kept everyone on their feet, including the tap dancers, maypole dancers, and belly dancers!
Kennedy School graduates from the 1920s came back to represent some of the earliest days of the school and share their memories. In fact, there were alumni from every decade of the school’s history, up until the final school year of 1975. Their cheerful class photos are displayed up and down the hallways, and have kept the Kennedy School spirit alive for visitors over the last 25 years.
Now we’re looking back on a quarter-century of new memories, from having a drink in Detention (the bar, that is), to having weddings in the gym! Since its opening, new additions have popped up, like the opening of the Boiler Room Bar in 2008, with its fantastic plumbing pipe art, and the English Wing of the hotel, which added 22 new guest rooms in 2013.
Here are some before and after photos of the remodel in 1997. Thanks always to the tremendous team of renovators, craft workers, and artists who made Kennedy School such a special gathering place.
Check out this new video below covering the transformation of Kennedy School, featuring an interview with Mike McMenamin and McMenamins’ artists Myrna Yoder & Jenny Joyce.