I’ve written a lot about Ira Schnapp on my blog. He was a letterer and logo designer for DC Comics from 1940 until about 1968, and he died in 1969. From about 1949 to 1967, Ira set the style for the company, creating many of their house ads and logos and lettering hundreds of covers and thousands of story pages. I wrote a detailed series of articles gathering all the information I could find about Ira beginning HERE, with the help of fellow logo designer and comics historian Alex Jay, whose research has been invaluable. One thing I didn’t cover, because I didn’t yet know it, was Ira’s time in high school. Alex has found out more about that since those articles were written, and here it is.
The Schnapp Family’s first home in Manhattan was at 86 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. They were living there while Ira went to high school. The first clue to the high school Ira attended came from a book or pamphlet Alex found online: Department of Education, The City of New York, Fifteenth Annual Report of the City Superintendent of Schools for the Year Ending July 31, 1913
That source listed the top 200 students in each county who graduated with “College Entrance Diplomas.” In other words, they were qualified to apply for college, though Ira never did as far as we know. Ira is on the page above in the listings for New York County. He was #146 out of 200 with a score of 75.5, and he graduated from Stuyvesant High School.
Stuyvesant was founded in 1904 as New York City’s second college preparatory school with free tuition for students who qualified for entrance. At first it was part of an existing school, but in 1907 it moved to its own new building on 15th Street west of First Avenue. As shown above, this was about a mile, or a 25-minute walk from the Schnapp home on Ludlow Street. Wikipedia reports: At first, the school provided a core curriculum of “English, Latin, modern languages, history, mathematics, physics, chemistry, [and] music”, as well as a physical education program and a more specialized track of “woodworking, metalworking, mechanical drawing, [and] freehand drawing”.:5 However, in June 1908, Maxwell announced that the trade school curriculum would be separated from the core curriculum, and a discrete trade school would operate in the Stuyvesant building during the evening.:5 Thereafter, Stuyvesant became renowned for excellence in math and science. In 1909, eighty percent of the school’s alumni went to college, compared to other schools, which only sent 25% to 50% of their graduates to college.[1
Ira’s artistic talent must have been nurtured here, and even though the focus of the school was on math and science, the trade school track of mechanical and freehand drawing would have been right up his alley.
Having found the school, we searched for their yearbooks. I found this one for the 1912 year and bought it, but was disappointed to find no reference to Ira inside. However, there was a club that seemed a likely one for Ira.
Although there was no list of members, later research revealed that Ira is the young man in the back row third from the left. The handsome Art Nouveau title is by Gus Rohde, who did a lot of similar art for this yearbook. I believe graduating seniors were given the chance to showcase their work in this way.
A few weeks ago the 1913 yearbook showed up on eBay, and Alex bought it. This time we hit the jackpot. It was Ira’s senior year, and he was given a number of illustration assignments in the book, which also includes his senior photo (at the top of this article). It’s the first photo we’ve found of young Ira, and one of only a few we have of him at all.
The first example of Ira’s work is on this page, a title for “The Caliper,” a school newspaper. As you can see, Ira was already skilled at classic letter forms, and some of these have an Art Nouveau flair.
Ira’s lettering turns up next on this title for the Art Turning Society. Turning in this case means carving wood on a rotating spindle, such as for chairs or staircases.
The largest piece by Ira appears at the beginning of the senior class Individual Records section. Note this is the class of June 1913. The school graduated two classes each year, apparently. Ira’s title uses the old Roman V instead of U, and his signature is more elaborate than elsewhere. His drawing of graduates signing a record book is pretty good if not great.
Here is Ira’s own listing at the top of this page. He was known for his artistic temperament, and in addition to the Sketch Club, he was in the Chess and Checker Club, the Architectural Society and the Civics Club. In later years, Ira often talked about his work as part of a team creating the huge inscriptions on the outside of the Farley Post Office, which I’ve written about HERE. This must have happened, or at least begun, while he was in high school. Perhaps the teachers of the Sketch Club or the Architectural Club were recruiting students to work on these projects, but that’s just a guess.
Finally, here’s Ira in the class photo, indicated by the red arrow. Some in the front may be teachers, but it looks like the class was about 60-70 people. Small enough to allow teachers to work closely with students.
By the 1915 New York State Census, the Schnapp family had moved north to 170th Street in The Bronx. Ira was still with them, and his occupation was listed as Salesman. By 1917, when Ira filled out his World War One draft card, he was working for the W. T. Slide Company probably lettering titles for silent movies. Ira had begun an art career that would support him and later his own family for the rest of his life. I imagine the education and skills he learned in high school were a major part of his success.