Past Treasure of the Month – October 2014

Galveston’s First Middle School
Portrait of Isadore Lovenberg in Rosenberg Library Museum Collection - gift of Jennie Lovenberg.Portrait of Isadore Lovenberg in Rosenberg Library
Museum Collection – gift of Jennie Lovenberg.

As fall settles in, giving islanders a break from the sweltering summer heat, the children of Galveston are finally getting acclimated to the new school year. It is the time of year that they finally remember the combination to their lockers – dances are being planned, tests studied for, homework completed, and football season is in full swing. This October the Rosenberg Library remembers Galveston’s first middle school Lovenberg Jr. High as its October Treasure of the Month. The display included a portrait of Isadore Lovenberg, a football and trophy from the school’s 1957 football team, and other items related to the school.

Benefactors: Isadore and Jennie Lovenberg

The school’s namesake, Isadore Lovenberg (1844 – 1917), was born in Paris and came to America at the age of 14. He first lived in Alabama, then New Orleans and finally settled in Galveston in 1867. Lovenberg, a successful businessman, was one of the organizers of the congregation B’nai Israel. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Rosenberg Library, on the board of the Orphans Home, a member of the board of the Lasker Home for Homeless Children, a member of the Board of School Trustees for 30 years, and an 18th degree Scottish Rite Mason. When he passed away his wife Jennie Lovenberg (1855 – 1939) gave the school district a gift of $50,000, to establish a teacher retirement fund, but asked that a school be named after her late husband. However, Mrs. Lovenberg’s dedication to the school did not stop there: the principal of the Lovenberg Junior High called her the school’s ‘fairy godmother’ as she frequently came to assemblies and ate lunch with the students every Thursday. Every year on her birthday the school would have a party in her honor. Upon Mrs. Lovenberg’s death in 1939 she left most of her estate to the school.

Photograph of Lovenberg Junior High School, Galveston’s first middle school, which served the students of Galveston from 1933 - 1978 (courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center).Photograph of Lovenberg Junior High School, Galveston’s first middle school, which
served the students of Galveston from 1933 – 1978 (courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center).

History of Lovenberg Junior High

In 1929, Galveston voters approved a bond to alleviate overcrowding in Ball High School by funding the construction of Lovenberg Junior High school. Located on Avenues T and U between 39th and 41st streets, the two-story brick building was designed by Galveston architect R.R. Rapp along with Giescke & Harris of Austin and at a cost of $475,000. On January 2, 1933 the school opened its doors to its first class of students. Thousands of visitors came to see the new building and were ‘impressed with its beauty and efficiency.’

Throughout its 45 year history, Lovenberg School had only three principals: A.E. Davis (1933 – 1946), Rudolph Smart (1946 – 1971) and Luther Knebel (1971 – 1979). When it opened much of the staff was drawn from other schools in the area: Principal A.E. Davis and Alice Bruce, who served as the first Dean, both formerly worked at Sam Houston School. Lovenberg Junior High originally housed grades sixth through eighth, but in 1949 Galveston added an additional year to public schools (going from 11 to 12) and Lovenberg switched to grades seventh to ninth. In 1971 new educational concepts introduced the idea of a ‘middle school’ and Lovenberg returned to the original sixth through eighth grades. Five years later it underwent yet other restructuring, teaching only sixth and seventh grades.

By the mid-1970s the school district’s Long Range Planning Committee decided it was in the best interest to shut down the school. Four factors played into the decision: declining enrollment, to facilitate integration, the deteriorating condition of the building and the value of the real estate that the building resided on. Delays in renovating Austin Middle Schools kept Lovenberg open for a year longer than expected, but in 1979 the school finally closed its doors, which some 40,000 students had passed through.

Two years later, Galveston Independent School District board members voted to name the Administration building at 3904 Ave. T in honor of Isadore Lovenberg. The old Lovenberg school building was demolished in the mid-1980s.