Just to the west of the downtown historical district lies a building that has witnessed the majority of our community’s greatest milestones. Nearly as old as the city itself, the giant edifice was a symbol of progress, representing Kingsville’s steady march into the future as well as Mrs. Henrietta M. King’s ideals of childhood education, public service and philanthropy. The same hallways that were once alive with the sounds of children’s laughter and molded some of our town’s greatest leaders have sat empty and silent for over three decades, until now. The old H.M. King Public School on the corner of South 3rd Street and King Avenue is currently undergoing a large-scale renovation to house a number of city departments as well serve as the new city hall upon its completion in late 2015.
H.M. King School Building: A Look Back
After donating acres of land that would become the site of present-day Kingsville, Henrietta King invested much time and effort into putting those acres into good use. By 1909, many of the city’s original wood-frame structures had been destroyed by fire and Mrs. King and her son-in-law Robert J. Kleberg sought the help of Danish architect Jules Carl Leffland of Victoria.
Known for designing a number of beautiful commercial and civic buildings throughout Victoria, Wharton, Cuero, Beeville and Goliad, Leffland seemed to be the perfect person to bring Mrs. King’s vision to life. During their collaboration, a Spanish colonial influence was added to Leffland’s trademark neoclassical revival style and the end result was a distinctive look that is still displayed to this day on buildings such as the King Ranch’s Main House and on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Mrs. King paid $75,000 to have Leffland’s design for the school constructed and insisted that each of the façade’s three towers represent a Texas’ most famous missions including the Alamo, the Mission Conception and the Mission San Jose. The school’s first classes commenced during the 1910 school year and the structure was a major staple in the community until a fire destroyed much of the structure on the 9th of February, 1925. The city suffered another loss when on March 31st of the same year, Mrs. King died at the age of 93.
The school was rebuilt and expanded to include its now iconic Spanish tile roof and re-opened in 1926. Many additions to the building were added in the following years including a home economics cottage in 1930, a gymnasium in 1940 and an industrial arts building in 1950. The last senior class graduated from the school in 1964 and the building then served as Memorial Junior High School in the late 60’s and then a Community Education Center in the latter part of the 1970’s. In 1981, the site became a Texas Historic Landmark and in 1983 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since then, however, the unused building has sat in silence and fell into disrepair.
Honoring Our Heritage
After years of debate about what to do with the building, the King High Historical Foundation was founded in 2008 to restore the building to its former glory. In December 2009, the Kingsville Independent School District deeded the site to the Historical Foundation spearheaded by Henrietta King’s great-granddaughter Mrs. Helen Kleberg Groves, who contributed $1 million dollars to begin the project. Working in conjunction with the City of Kingsville, the foundation raised a total of $3 million dollars through donations while the city pledged $2.7 million towards the project and plans to use to site as the location of the new City Hall.
As an adaptive reuse project, the restoration from serving as the H.M. King School to becoming City Hall will remain true to the building’s historical significance. In an effort to maintain standards and protect the building’s heritage values, the building’s long history will be featured on the walls of the building’s interior for visitors. The building’s large community room will serve as a home for events, learning opportunities and City Commission meetings. Other possible plans for the site include a nature trail between King Street and the building, playing fields, an outdoor amphitheater and a community recreation center.
Though completion of the building is slated for sometime next year, the measures undertaken so far have already gone a long way toward upholding the honor of those who built it and restoring an important part of Kingsville’s rich and enduring legacy.