“Coming of Age In Delridge”

On Delridge Way, where tide-flats once spread to Elliott Bay, sits a massive brick building. For 70 years, the Youngstown/Cooper School anchored a neighborhood of lowlands and ridges on the Duwamish Peninsula. For 15 years, the building was vacant. The concrete steps leading to the arched entrance were mossy and crumbling; plywood blocked light through the tall windows, and blackberry vines stretched onto the playfield. A once vibrant school was used for storage.

The school had been a crossroads for this working-class neighborhood. The children of southern and eastern European immigrants came over the hill from Riverside, a fishing community along the Duwamish River. The children of Scandinavian immigrants came down the hill from Pigeon Point. Italian, German, and Russian children and the children of steel mill workers came from the valley called Youngstown between Pigeon Hill and Duwamish Head.

During World War II, Japanese-American children left the school for internment camps; the children of defense workers streaming to Puget Sound jobs replaced them. After the war, a few more African-American children and the first African-American teacher in Seattle came to Cooper. In its last three decades, Native Americans, Filipinos, Southeast Asians and Samoans attended the school as well. Their experiences inside the brick building shaped the community they lived in and the adults they became. Besides reading, math, social studies, science, music, art, and physical education, Cooper taught civics, patriotism, the dominant culture, and upward mobility.

In 2006, the school re-opened as the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, housing artists and cultural groups. In the process of renovating the building, the neighborhood also rediscovered its history.