National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Back To School: Early Twentieth Century Schools in Puerto Rico Multiple Property Submission

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

photo
Fontan, Jose, School
Photograph courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Early Twentieth Century Schools in Puerto Rico MPS

The Early 20th Century Schools in Puerto Rico Multiple Property Submission addresses the buildings that best represent the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s public school buildings efforts from 1900 to 1930. A multiple property submission (MPS) consists of a thematic group listing of the National Register of Historic Places that consists of related properties that share a common theme and can be submitted as a group. The Spanish American War ended in 1898, with Puerto Rico becoming a territory of the United States. By the time William Hunt took office as governor in 1900-there were just over 500 schoolrooms on the island, as inherited from the Spanish colonial government. The illiteracy rate was 79.6%. By 1930, Puerto Rico boasted 3,273 schools and, according to available records, only 41% of its population could not read or write. A dramatic increase in population during the period underlined the urgent need for educational facilities.  During the last two decades of Spanish domination, the population had risen by 140,000 inhabitants and would continue to grow in the following years. Upon taking charge of Puerto Rico at the dawn of the 20th century, the United States immediately understood the potential of education as a vehicle for effectively transmitting knowledge, as well as political and social ideas and ideals. In spite of the relative rush with which the government set out to build so many new education facilities, many turned out to be superb architectural examples. The school buildings erected in Puerto Rico between 1900 and 1930 were the earliest buildings with which the United States government made its presence felt in Puerto Rico, and have proven to be some of its most lasting. Below are a couple of schools from Puerto Rico that have been recenlty listed in the National Register of Historic Places and comprise part of the Early 20th Century Schools in Puerto Rico Multiple Property Submission.

photo Maceira, Rafael Balseiro, School
Photograph courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Rafael Balseiro Maceira School

The Rafael Balseiro Maceira School is located in the Municipality of Barceloneta, a small town founded in 1881, close to the northern shore of Puerto Rico, 40 miles away from the capital city of San Juan. Built of concrete in 1921, the eight-classroom school was designed by US architect Adrian C. Finlayson, with contractor Engineer Antonio M. Narvas, Jr. The school is two stories and was built when traditional assembly systems (wood and brick) were being initially substituted by reinforced concrete. The Rafael Balseiro Maceira School constitutes one of the Island’s initial successes in adapting new, related building technologies. The matching funds to build the new schools came from the income made from the sugar corporations, which grew in the early 1920s. To this day, the school stands at the entrance of Barceloneta, and was a sign of progress when first built. The school was named to honor Rafael Balserio Maceria, who was born in Spain in 1823 but came to Puerto Rico at age three and in later life dedicated himself to the business and agricultural interests of the Barceloneta region.

photoFontan, Jose, School
Photograph courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

José Fontán School
The José Fontán School sits at the heart of town in Morovis, amidst Puerto Rico’s central mountain range. A C-shaped, one story, reinforced concrete building built near the town’s main plaza between 1925 and 1927, the six-classroom school was designed by US architect Joseph O’Kelly. O’Kelly, born in New York to an American father and a Puerto Rican mother, and a graduate of Drexel Institute of Philadelphia (1915) resorted to a traditional design idiom incorporating Neoclassical and Spanish revival styles.  Notable public figures like Baltasar Corrada del Rio (born 1835), who was Mayor of San Juan from 1985-1989, and Associate Justice to the Supreme Court (1995-2005) and Loriena Santos Silva, a poet and leader of gender studies in Puerto Rico, attended the school. Because of its unique location, a unique entrance, the appropriation of classical details, the use of Spanish terracotta roof tiles, and fine construction craftsmanship, the José Fontán School stands out as a significant historic resource. Today, along with other adjoining properties, the school is part of the multi-building campus of the Urban Elementary School of Morovis.

 

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