Still a community center
The Kennedy School has been a center of lively activity for the Northeast Portland neighborhood since opening in 1915. Over the years, thousands of kids congregated here to decipher the three Rs, eat mac and cheese on Mondays and climb hand over hand up the gym rope to ring the bell.
When built, Kennedy Elementary School's location was rather remote; it stood three blocks beyond the end of the nearest streetcar line. And that line, which came out Northeast Alberta Street, passed through some pretty sparse country, judging from an ordinance that outlawed the shooting of rabbits from the streetcar.
Also, the school was just eight blocks from the city line, then set at Northeast 42nd Ave. — and in those early years, the numerous Kennedy students residing beyond that boundary lived without electricity, water, sewer or telephones.
Actually, the first elementary school classes were held on the school grounds in portable, one-room buildings in 1913, two years before the present-day school building was built and opened. Just 29 children attended that first year.
As decades passed, the school took on additional civic roles, further endearing it to its neighbors. When school was not in session, "Kennedy" served the community as a public meeting hall, polling place, Red Cross blood drawing center, collection site for paper and tin can drives, weekend playground and even flood-relief shelter.
It was a sad day indeed when at the end of the 1974-75 school year, faced with declining enrollment throughout the district, school officials closed Kennedy, declaring it too old and crumbling to repair.
Scrambling to ward off several demolition orders, a coalition of neighbors, former students, past PTA presidents and the Portland Development Commission fought successfully to save the building.
Mike and Brian McMenamin presented just one of several proposals for reviving the condemned property. Other ideas ranged from a retirement home to an indoor soccer facility. After receiving the approval of the city and the support of the neighborhood, McMenamins launched its renovation in the spring of 1997, infusing the 80-year-old structure with new life. In particular, a river of artwork was inspired by the stories of generations of Kennedy's students and teachers.
On October 22, 1997, the original principal's bell was rung on the front steps at 7 a.m. sharp to herald the old school's new beginning as McMenamins Kennedy School. Offering a unique and fun lodging, dining and meeting experience, Kennedy remains a lively gathering spot for neighbors and newcomers alike.