Lake Bluff Grads: Today and Yesteryear

Lake Bluff Middle School’s 8th grade graduation takes place each June in the school gym packed with students, teachers, families and friends. But in the first half of the 20th century, the ceremony took place beneath the sky on school grounds.

It was the middle of the Roaring ‘20s, and Lake Bluff School must have had a bit of cash. That’s when the school board hired the architecture firm of Howard Van Doren Shaw to design and build an open air theater at the 1895-built Lake Bluff School on E. Sheridan Place. Shaw was a renowned architect who designed Lake Forest’s Market Square and numerous country estates including his own, Ragdale, now an artist’s retreat.

Shaw’s firm was a big deal, and the open air theater was ambitious for Lake Bluff’s small K-8 brick school.

The design showed a raised stage surrounded by stone walls and a bank of trees. Included in the plans but never brought to fruition were gardens and an obelisk with a statue of an eagle on top. Lake Bluff School used the stage for graduation ceremonies, assemblies and school plays, and for years children used the stone walls as an outdoor lunch room and home base for myriad games.

Poor acoustics, unpredictable weather and insects lessened the outdoor theater’s appeal, and by 1942 it wasn’t much in use. Remnants lasted until Lake Bluff Junior High (now LBMS) was built in 1955.

But in its prime, the open air theater served a purpose (especially in non-17-year-cicada-brood years).