"Many high school buildings might be rather bland"
September 13, 2017 1:52 PM   Subscribe

From the stately (and infamous) Little Rock Central High to the Art Deco stylings of Will Rogers High, Architectural Digest picks The Most Beautiful Public High School in Every State in America.
posted by mediareport (53 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I was momentarily spooked to scroll down and see Sunnydale High representing California. Go Razorbacks!
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:06 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Most of those are pretty awesome. Except Delaware which just looks like any other generic municipal building from the aughts.
posted by ghharr at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2017

Since they skipped DC and the other colonies, I'm going to put in a word for the recently renovated Cardozo High School here. It's hard to believe Congress once thought us worthy of such splendor.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:16 PM on September 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

The 1920s and '30s appear to have been a Golden Age for high school architecture in America. I was pleased to see Shortridge in Indianapolis included, although the picture doesn't quite do it justice. My father and numerous aunts and uncles attended Shortridge in the 1930s and '40s. Several of them were there at the same time as Vonnegut, who they recalled as something of a loner and not someone they knew very well. I guess he showed them!
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

The one in Alpharetta , GA looks too much like a military academy for my taste
posted by thelonius at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Much as I love old-timey architecture, I swooned over the Alaska building.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Also, as a Texan it seems fitting that the Texas entry should include a ginormous football field.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oooof course it's Lake Forest for Illinois. I suspect it's in the top five best-funded public high schools in the state, if not literally the best, and I bet it's top 25 in the nation, too.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I object to Lake Forest HS representing Illinois when there are so many architecturally important and gorgeous schools elsewhere in the state, especially in Chicago, where many are historically-landmarked. Like Lane Tech or Phillips Academy in Chicago, or Peoria High (oldest high school west of the Alleghenies, with bonus stone lions, windows recently restored to historical accuracy), and the building I think should have been their pick: Bloom High School in Chicago Heights, with that spectacular Art Deco entrance tower! It was built during the 30s with WPA funds and has six -- six! -- WPA murals. The sculptures at the entrance are also WPA.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

The 1920s and '30s appear to have been a Golden Age for high school architecture in America.
The main building of my high school was built then, and it is a lovely Georgian brick building with a cupola, and a graceful curving staircase leading to the main door.
posted by thelonius at 2:38 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow, Little Rock Central High School looks like an Art Deco penitentiary.
posted by thelonius at 2:40 PM on September 13, 2017

I visited Lake Forest HS for a scholastic bowl tournament once. I leafed through the school paper while waiting for the buzzers to get set up, and I encountered an editorial which argued that a new swimming pool be built for the exclusive use of seniors.
posted by Iridic at 2:40 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Utah's Ogden High School, my Alma Mater, Go Tigers! The graduates of that school, ponied up millions of dollars for a complete restoration a few years ago. The Art Deco Auditorium is a treasure. Here are some details.
posted by Oyéah at 2:41 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

It looks like by "Most Beautiful" they mean "Really Humongous". I have to imagine there's got to be a lot of small, well-cared-for jewel-box schools still dotting the American landscape - I would have liked to have seen some of those.

But yeah, monumental schools! Most impressive. I particularly like Art Deco schools...stately and cool at the same time.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:41 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

And another note (and minor complaint) about how they presented Shortridge HS in Indianapolis: They mention Kurt Vonnegut, who was a student there, while failing to mention the building's architect was Kurt's grandfather. Kind of oversight you wouldn't expect from Architectural Digest.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 2:42 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Pour one out for the previous iterations of St. Paul Central, replaced by a concrete monstrosity that is brutal even by brutalist standards.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

> It looks like by "Most Beautiful" they mean "Really Humongous".

And, with a few exceptions, "Most Conventional."

I care more about what the schools are like on the inside. I'm sure these 80-year-old brick buildings are lovely to look at, but are there enough electrical outlets?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Volcano View, NM and Fairhaven, MA are stunning, coming at it from opposite ends of the architectural spectrum.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:47 PM on September 13, 2017

Could Chandler High School BE any more attractive?
posted by ilana at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

To the eye of this non american, they all have the "American school" aesthetic so recogniseble from films and tv. Very pretty but all a bit samey.
But then school architecture tends to represent the "ideal" of culture of the nation in which they are built, and end up having a similar taste.

Of the ones that stand put because different, i like Mississippi.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

For the record, my school was a converted chemical factory, i would have given anything for a red brick old timey school
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

A thing I noticed doing public defender work is how much prisons built a couple decades later look like schools I went to. The needs are actually pretty similar, but it was striking how much the new as of 2008 jail looked like my new as of 1992 elementary school.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:17 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

A thing I noticed doing public defender work is how much prisons built a couple decades later look like schools I went to.

This is basically the theme of every Rush song.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Topeka High School was robbed, I tell ya!
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

A thing I noticed doing public defender work is how much prisons built a couple decades later look like schools I went to.

Schools, like prisons, mental health hospitals, army barracks, and so on are "total institutions" designed to shape and, when necessary, force the behavior of their inhabitants en masse. They look similar because they have similar goals. The only difference between school and other total institutions is that school is the only one nearly everyone is subjected to for some period of time.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Most of them, even the modern ones, look like typical, albeit large, schools of their era but the Mississippi and Tennessee schools are very cool and idiosyncratic.
posted by Flashman at 3:49 PM on September 13, 2017

A little too much Chunky Redbrick. (Though that would be preferable to my own high school, whose style could be grandly called Two-Storey '70s Industrial Park.)

I like Hawaii's entry. And Alabama's is surprisingly funky.
posted by zompist at 3:49 PM on September 13, 2017

My little elementary school was built by German POWs. When I was but a wee child, one of them came back to visit, and said it was permanently ingrained in his memory as a modern wonder, what with the pre-fab concrete buttresses and giant (sort of) gymnasium and cafeteria. When he got back to Bravaria (I think), he made it a point to run for the school board and promote the American style (via Bauhaus) of educational facility, so all children in his world could have the same open spaces and light us poor little backwood hicks could in our world. Most beautiful, no, but I dare any of these to have left a greater impression.

Here's to school buildings that inspire, no matter what they look like.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:55 PM on September 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

Came to look for stadium high school in Tacoma for Washington state, was not disappointed.

It's seriously a phenomenal building. Hogwarts in America.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:58 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ha, I am not surprised that that damn fool building from my alma mater made the list. (I went to Milton High School for the first three years that that site was open, having transferred in as a sophomore in 2005.)

They had trailers on those grand lawns by the time I graduated (not, of course, shown). Those beautiful statuesque columns and the building's shape--like an E with an extra bar--intended to allow every classroom to have natural light? Yeah, not so practical when you've so underestimated the size of your enrollment immediately after building a larger campus to accommodate growth that not all the high school students can be guaranteed lockers.

If they'd spent more budget building goddamn classrooms than they did building reams of stupid-ass pillars, maybe the school could have devised a structure that could actually house the volume of students moving into the district as it was bloody intended to. Grumble. I had excellent teachers there, but I always thought the building was a ridiculous, self-important monstrosity of a thing.
posted by sciatrix at 4:14 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Stadium in Tacoma WA is a good choice. My wife went there, and the school was recently renovated and is very up to date while retaining that classic old look.
posted by lhauser at 4:29 PM on September 13, 2017

The best thing about Stadium is the stadium flooding during heavy rain.
posted by edeezy at 4:37 PM on September 13, 2017

My HS still has lots of meaning because it was brand new when I started there (c/o 2002: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blakenet/albums/72157672460866863)

I remember how the principal at the time fought the county to NOT do everything in beige. And refused to let them put in those long 'prison tables' where the chairs were attached to the table. Certainly was a change from the other high school that opened the same year, which wound up all beige and sadness.

(My HS was also an arts signature school, so we had a little more of a reason to not be completely bland. There was also a HUGE FUCK YOU BRIGHT LEDs EVERYWHERE sign installed well after I graduated which now all other schools want. See this sadness of the HS I was originally going to go to.)
posted by sperose at 4:45 PM on September 13, 2017

Shouldn't be surprised--I've seen some pretty grand high schools in my time, including the aforementioned Lane Tech, although my high school was nothing special--that most of these are more impressive than any building on the campus of my undergrad alma mater.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:55 PM on September 13, 2017

Clear winner here is montogmery county high school, with concrete domes in a man-made lake.
posted by hilberseimer at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Checked to make sure my high school was representing FL as it should. Go Terriers.
posted by penduluum at 5:49 PM on September 13, 2017

Checked that the old Las Vegas high school building was picked for Nevada and was not disappointed.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:13 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

> Schools, like prisons, mental health hospitals, army barracks, and so on are "total institutions" designed to shape and, when necessary, force the behavior of their inhabitants en masse. They look similar because they have similar goals.

The new high school in my town looks like an airport.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:33 PM on September 13, 2017

I lived within walking distance of Ohio's representative and it is just as impressive in person. My wife grew up in the city that houses West Virginia's representative so I've seen that one in person tons of times while on trips home.
posted by mmascolino at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2017

"I care more about what the schools are like on the inside. I'm sure these 80-year-old brick buildings are lovely to look at, but are there enough electrical outlets?"

Often they are! I spent three years on the buildings committee when I was on school board, overseeing about 28 schools with build dates from 1885ish (1889?) through 2012. It depended a lot. One thing we had to decide which high school to close, of four, built in 1916, 1937 with a huge 1970 expansion, 1957, and 1963. We did extensive studies of the school buildings and their appropriateness, and the 1916 building was by far the most appropriate to high school use -- it had wide corridors and good ventilation and easy circulation of students and the classroom spaces were flexible. The 1970 expansion was the worst, by far; everything was purpose-built and hard to convert as needs changed, the hallway were narrow and prone to traffic jams when kids changed classes, the sections of the building weren't connected well, etc. (We ended up closing the 1937 w/ 1970 expansion building as a high school, and reopening it as a specialty building housing voc tech programs and high-risk elementary and junior high programs, because it was very easy to chunk the building up into small separated pieces. The 1916 building was just a lot easier to modernize.)

In general, the worst buildings to continue using and to modernize are 1960s and 1970s buildings, the cinderblock palaces of sorrow that served the Baby Boom. They're often built with very specific needs and uses in mind and little flexibility, and to accommodate ONLY state-of-the-art 1970 technology, and they're built according to very minimal standards of habitability and use, they use national standards rather than suiting local needs, and they're functional above all -- but functional for 1970. Older buildings -- pre-WWII -- are a lot less specific, they're just a lot of rooms, and they tend to be built to suit the local climate pre-A/C, and they tend to be fairly large and grand as pre-WWII public buildings expressing community values. So a school building from 1970 is kind-of a nightmare to bring up to modern HVAC standards and the lighting is universally terrible and even installing a computer lab is a bit of a PITA. (Building the same cinderblock palace in Peoria Illinois and Peoria Arizona is a dumb-ass thing to do in terms of climate.) But a building from 1910 has tons of space for modern, small HVAC and is engineered to work WITH the local climate anyway so it doesn't need as much climate control; it takes a lot of advantage of natural light; its large hallways and classrooms are more flexible than a classroom built to accommodate 25 students in specific-sized desks forever amen; etc.

In 1970 being in a 1910 building was shitty, especially as they put up all those terrible colorblock window blocking things to provide insulation and horrible fluorescent lights dropped 5 feet from the ceiling. But in 2017 a 1910 building is probably more habitable than a 1970 building. It's probably been fitted with modern windows (that open!) but that insulate really well, with the ugly colorblocking removed, so that classrooms have a ton of natural light and even natural air, but are still well-insulated. The HVAC is probably more modern. The electrical is also more modern, since it was run almost from scratch, and the internet is brand new. There are probably daylight LED lights. The big hallways and classrooms more easily accommodate shifting needs. The 1970 school is 1970s electricity that's hard to update and it's hard to run internet; it's badly insulated; it has shitty-ass light fixtures and no space for new ones; and it has narrow household-sized hallways and small classrooms intended for nothing but lectures to exactly 25 students.

Anyway it depends quite a bit. We renovated and updated some 100-year-old buildings, and closed others. It depends how they were maintained, how they were updated, how much asbestos there was, how hard it would be to come up to modern fire safety standards, whether they could be made ADA compliant, etc. Very new school buildings take into account some of the lessons we've learned from bad 1960s and 1970s schools, and are more flexible and more student-friendly and more amenable to changing standards, but we'll see how they hold up in 40 years.

Of course all of it has to do with how much money is available for capital improvements! And if it's restricted to renovations or new buildings or what. With enough money you can make almost ANY terrible building awesome!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:59 PM on September 13, 2017 [21 favorites]

As you might guess from the construction date, Lake Forest High School was a WPA project. It is, however, not all that architecturally interesting, unless you count the impossible to find rooms or the mysterious abandoned I'm not sure what in the basement. (I think it must have been the cafeteria at some point.) It does photograph well, though, because of how they expanded.

I feel like all you need to know about money and Lake Forest High School is that I never had a snow day in high school (or ever, actually; we did lose two days to lack of heat in elementary school), but did get sent home early multiple times due to lack of electricity. The actual lack of electricity was ConEd's fault. But it goes something like this:
Outraged Parent: What do you mean there's no backup generator!? (I have no idea if back up generators are standard in schools, but LFHS has one.)
School: There is. Turns out it doesn't work and, well, you can't have a passing period with pitch black stairwells.
OP: What do you mean it doesn't work!? Fix it!
S: Enrollment's way up and you wouldn't vote for that bond measure, so we can't actually afford to right now.
OP: How dare you suggest I pay more in property tax, you'd just spend it on frivolous things.
Outraged Parent writes a check to the booster club to buy the football team new uniforms for the third year running.
The whole thing is obnoxious. Lake Forest High School in a money crunch is still doing better than probably most districts not having money problems, but I certainly learned plenty about the unwillingness of the rich to pay for the common good. (It's probably also worth mentioning that the district isn't uniformly wealthy, which is a particular problem when the school saves money by passing costs on to the families of students. The big one is that you have to buy your textbooks. Things like Model UN don't fundraise to go to far away competitions as they might at other schools because obviously your parents will pay.)
posted by hoyland at 7:06 PM on September 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

the cinderblock palaces of sorrow that served the Baby Boom

Yeah, those were my schools. I don't think I'll ever get over my amazement that some (many!) schools are actually attractive, historic, or generally look like somebody once gave a damn. Why spend money on ornamentation when a low brick thing with maybe some windows will do just as well. It's not like children appreciate art or history anyway. That's why we have to force them to sit in desks and read about it in books. If they came to school every day and saw beauty plastered all over, it might inspire hopes and dreams. They might get the idea that everybody can have nice things. And we can't have that. No, I'm not bitter at all...
posted by gueneverey at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went to Chandler High in Arizona! It really is gorgeous from the outside. Inside was a real dump when I was attending in the early '90s. Also, full of ghosts.
posted by padraigin at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2017

After the first few photos there are no photos unless you have a Facebook account and you allow Facebook links to open on your browser, so I guess I'll just take people's word for the other high schools unless someone knows another way to view these.
posted by eye of newt at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, the Stadium High School campus is majestic. But there are other high schools in Washington State too! Check out Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila. (Full disclosure: designed by Bassetti Architects, where my father works.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:37 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I nervously looked for Colorado, and was tickled my high school was The One. Although I mostly hated his, I truly love that building, and the campus, which had a parkway on front, entered through a drive past a fountain, flanked by gates. It felt collegiate, not like a high school.
posted by dbmcd at 9:20 PM on September 13, 2017

Manitowoc Lincoln High School in Wisconsin (yes, home of Making a Murderer) is cited in the article and it's a fine looking older building. But the back of the school looks out over Lake Michigan, and the school has its own beach right past the tennis courts. I've been there a couple of times, and it's like if you went to high school right on the Pacific Ocean. I would have skipped school every day it was above 70 degrees to go sit in the sand and watch the waves roll in.

Oh, and also to get high.
posted by Kibbutz at 9:29 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

While attending I hated my HS with the heat of a million stars going nova but it was just recently torn down and thinking about that makes me feel all weird inside.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:13 PM on September 13, 2017

I finished high school at Lake Forest because I was lucky enough to have an aunt and uncle who offered to let me live with them. The transition from Loy Norrix in Kalamazoo (funding per student per year in '93-94: roughly $4000) to LFHS (93-94 funding: over $13000 per student, second at the time only to Beverly Hills) was astounding. I went from a senior class where, at the beginning of the year, only 50% were expected to graduate (they did manage to get 75% by the end of the year) to a school where everyone graduated, and 99% went on college.

In Norrix, there were two tracks at the time, college prep and non-college prep. There weren't metal detectors yet, but those arrived shortly after I left. We did have a police presence on the first and last days of each term, and police were regularly called to the school to intervene and/or arrest students.

At Lake Forest, there were a ridiculous number of levels available for each subject, AP courses for everything, Honors courses for all sorts of stuff. Invitation only courses. Outdoor Education courses where students learned rock climbing on the indoor climbing wall, and archery, and cross country skiing, and snorkeling (in the Olympic sized pool).

I took full advantage of LFHS, going from someone on the path to dropping out of Kalamazoo Public Schools to someone who made it into a decent college, but goddamn. Funding education through property tax has got to be at least in the top three of the worst things in America. There's nothing about me that was any more deserving of the opportunity I got than any other kid at Norrix, and the only reason I had that chance, which led me to college, to studying abroad, to finally settling overseas, is that I had well to do family with a ludicrously funded high school in their town. If that's not a clear symptom of the sickness rotting away at America, I don't know what is.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Whoo, Chandler High! *high fives padraigin*

I graduated in 1999, so I probably just missed you. And yeah, it was still a dump inside then too. I do hope they put money into renovating it since.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 9:17 AM on September 14, 2017

For those still wondering...grand old Stadium High in Tacoma was completely renovated between five and ten years ago. Very high-tech inside. Plenty of outlets. Tacoma has been doing this kind of thing with their schools for years. They are fortunate that they have a spare school building sitting out in the back yard. They shift school operations there for a few years while the remodeling/rebuilding goes on, then move everyone back when it's done.

The spare school doesn't help with the Stadium Bowl flooding problem, though.
posted by lhauser at 9:50 AM on September 15, 2017

It's kind of funny to me that they chose Morrisvilletown for VT as the building appears nearly identical to Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans (vs the boring modern Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax or remarkably depressing Bellows Falls Union High School).

Vermont is TINY and yet it still suffers from New England naming syndrome.
posted by maryr at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2017

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