Pease Elementary Gains Landmark Status

by John Donisi, past PA President

On Wednesday, November 6th, Pease Elementary School (12th and Rio Grande) celebrated its designation as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.  Principal Donna Martinez led the festivities, which included a proclamation from the City of Austin declaring it ‘Pease Elementary Day’ in Austin, honoring the history of the school.  Pease students participated by announcing key dates in tribute to Pease’s history, and music teacher Leeann Atherton penned a song for the occasion.  Due to rain, the event was moved to the gym, but Principal Martinez (with an assist from AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen) was able to unveil the RTHL Marker now gracing the main entrance to the campus on Rio Grande between downpours.  Representatives of the Austin City Council, the AISD Board of Trustees, the Texas Historical Commission, the Travis County Historical Commission, the City of Austin Historic Preservation Office, Preservation Austin (and others) attended, along with Pease students, parents, alums, neighbors and faculty.  A reception in the Hugo Kuehne-designed cafeteria (added in 1926) followed the unveiling, sponsored by the Doubletree Hotel and HEB.  Press coverage of the event can be found here.

On behalf of the Pease PTA, I had the pleasure of preparing, submitting and shepherding the RTHL application for the designation first through the Travis County Historical Commission and eventually through the Texas Historical Commission in 2012.  A pro-bono effort on my part, many Pease parents and faculty worked diligently to compile the history of the school, which was a significant undertaking.  Key among them was Brenda Gunn, Associate Director for Research and Collections at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History, a noted historian and researcher.  Members of the RTHL Committee were Jennifer Peters, Amanda Guajardo Elliott, Nicole Castillo, Lindsay Rosenthal, Stan Gunn, Mary Stewart Miller, Cathy Buck and Tommie Graham.  May Schmidt, a member of the Travis County Historical Commission, was exceptionally helpful.  A Pease alum, the Pease gymnasium is named in honor of Ms. Schmidt.

Pease was honored with a Subject Marker from THC in 1972, but it took another 30 years to achieve the more-cherished RTHL designation.  The origins of Pease Elementary trace to the Republic of Texas, which designated the Pease land for public educational purposes in 1839, and to 1876, when the first school in Texas constructed solely from public funds opened on the site.  The school was, for many years, the only public school operating in Austin.  Surviving an arsonist’s torch in 1896 and a number of significant renovations and additions over its 137 years in existence, Pease is the state’s longest continually-operating public school, serving as a cultural symbol for Austin and for Texas of the value and importance of public education.

Photos courtesy of the Austin History Center.