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Kennedy School was an elementary school from 1915-80. It has been a bed & breakfast since 1997  

Sleeping in school

February 23, 2000
Web posted at: 1:37 p.m. EST (1837 GMT)

(PORTLAND, Oregon) -- You’re in fourth grade. School is boring. You fall asleep.

Decades later, you wake from a deep slumber. The shades are closed. You rub your eyes, open them -- and see that same classroom from so long ago.

It could be a scene from the "Twilight Zone." Or, if you attended Kennedy Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, it could be real life.


The Kennedy School is a retired scholar back in the work force as a bed and breakfast. The old custodian’s room is now the honors bar, complete with draft beer and aged scotch. The former storage room is the detention bar -- same booze, plus the chance to smoke cigars.

The old tetherball court is a long, hot, soaking pool. The cafeteria is a tavern. The girl’s restroom? A brewery, with the glowering faces of past school principals painted on its fermentation vats.

Kennedy kids show off their birdhouses on the front steps, circa 1930  

You can thank brothers Brian and Mike McMenamin, owners of a string of funky pubs, theaters and dance halls, for this transformation. Native Oregonians with a strong sense of 1960s whimsy, the two have saved several historic buildings from the wrecking ball, and the onetime school is a sparkling example of how an old structure can be given new life.

The Kennedy School – named for an Irish immigrant farmer, not a president – had been a boarded-up eyesore for 15 years when the brothers came to the rescue. Working closely with neighbors in the community the school served, the McMenamins stayed true to much of the building's original 1915 Italian villa architecture while adding the kinds of touches that make you blissfully glad you're no longer sitting in class.

Each guest room has a name (We stayed in the math room.). The original blackboards are still on the wall, and the window are still elementary-school tall. But the rest of the room is comfortably furnished with bed, bathroom and dresser. Alas, just like fourth grade, there's no TV.

The long, high-ceiling hallways are decorated with historic photographs and the creations of six local artists. There's a mosaic of Martha Jordan, Oregon’s first African-American teacher at an integrated school. A haunting ,early-century photo of three-dozen students showing off handcrafted birdhouses on the school’s front steps is on display. And there's an article from a 1916 issue of Ladies' Home Journal that praises Kennedy’s one-story design -- a revolutionary concept back in those days of multifloored schools.

Using the Math Room chalkboard to do a high school calculus homework problem  

The refurbished Kennedy School is a popular place for parties and conferences. The night we stayed there, the halls were buzzing with locals unwinding at the end of the work week.

The auditorium shows second-run films for $2; you can sip pints from the brewery during the evening shows, when no children are allowed in the theater.

If barring kids from parts of an old elementary school seems odd, consider: Somewhere in Portland is a drowsy fourth grader, wishing he could escape school, dreaming of the day when he doesn’t have to take orders from teachers and other grownups.

Barred from school? He smiles briefly. Then his eyelids grow heavy as he nods his head …

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The Kennedy School

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