Central High School pt. 2 (The Practical Arts building)

/ Monday, September 26, 2011 /

Note: The post originally featured a picture of Ste. Marie's School captioned as Manchester West High. This has been corrected.

You can find the first post about Central High School here.

In 1922, the opening of the Practical Arts building coincided with the opening of Manchester High School West (or West High) on the other side of the river, giving the mainly French Canadian population, or "Westies," a school closer to home, without having kids schlep across a bridge every day. With this development, the schools earned their current names. Both West and the Practical Arts building were built in the same Federalist styles and bear striking similarities to one another. You have to wonder if the city used the same firm or contractor for the buildings. Perhaps, half off the second building?

Manchester West High School (Left via Meridian Construction) and Central High School's Practical Arts
building (Right).
The PA building stood across from the Classical building on Concord street and was connected by a 300 ft tunnel underneath the street to keep students from walking through traffic or inclement weather on a daily basis. The tunnel also carried steam heating pipes to the new building. It should also be noted that, no, Freshmen do not have to pay to use it. The building contained many modern improvements but proved to be "increasingly less satisfactory as the years passed." In Burns' text, "Sesquicentennial History: Manchester High School - Central 1846-1996," he does not go into detail about the structural problems the PA building had but mentions the problems were compounded when maintenance responsibilities were handed over exclusively to the school district, like when an apartment building's handy-man is moved off site.

Even though the school had its first gymnasium, electricity and science/shop-geared classrooms, the centerpiece of the PA was the auditorium. Accessible from all three levels, it could seat 1500 people and before the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth was built, sported the best acoustic quality in the state. The auditorium also contained a mid-stage trapdoor, dressing rooms, electric lighting, recessed orchestra pit and projection booth equipped with a Simplex projector to display "flickers" or silent movies. I'm working on getting a photo of the auditorium as it is often lauded as beautiful.

With the opening of the PA building, the school bolstered a much more complex and comprehensive curriculum and co-curriculum. Vocational training classes were being supported and added every year to educate children that were not on a set collegiate path. Local, political and tax-weary critics accused the school of trying to be all things to everyone. When I read this I couldn't help but think of this quote from the same interview with Lebbeus Woods, futurist architect, that I referenced in the first post about the school:
As I wrote some years back, architecture is a political act, by nature. It has to do with the relationships between people and how they decide to change their conditions of living. And architecture is a prime instrument of making that change – because it has to do with building the environment they live in, and the relationships that exist in that environment.
Manchester, along with the rest of the country, was moving into the modern era and the school system paralleled itself with that, knowing every child wasn't college bound but needed education. The PA building and the Corey Needle buildings (a retired needle factory that the city leased and equipped with six shops) were major factors in allowing kids to study vocational skills. In 1924, Dr. Louis P. Benezet, arrived as the school system's most progressive and "erudite" superintendant. Benezet denounced much of the classical curriculum that colleges still held high and felt —with an egalitarian attitude— that it was the schools' mission to attract all manner of students and hold their interests in education. Benezet is often cited as instrumental in the Manchester schools providing a wider variety of subjects and activities. In a round-about way, he protected and rationalized the PA and Corey buildings' purpose to the public, besides the far more obvious reason of stemming a rising tide in student enrollment.

The Corey Building —cited as a "fire trap" by the fire department— would later be decommissioned in 1959 in lieu of a new Industrial Arts building behind the PA building.

Corey’s Needle Works Concord Street between Nashua and Maple Streets, looking slightly north west. It later became Parochial Arts High School Manual Training Building. (1899)
When the Great Depression hit in the 30s, Central seemed to serve as more than just a school, but the best part of many students' day, a shelter away from the turbulent world at home. For some, it was their only chance to receive food and heat. In "Sesquicentennial History: Manchester High School - Central 1846-1996"  William Burns notes that student morale seemed to be at an all-time high between the 30s and 50s and remember Central with a level of fondness that has not been seen since.

By the sixties, the school would begin to bloat with classrooms stacked deep with students and two new buildings would be birthed in contention. The final post later this week.

Group portrait of Central High School Graduation Class, 1934.


Anonymous on: September 30, 2011 at 9:34 AM said...

This is a great post--the Central campus is a very interesting collection of buildings, from the original 19th century school to the recent renovations and additions, that often goes unnoticed.

I believe the photo labeled as West High School is actually the former Ste. Marie's School, currently home to the Majestic Theatre, on Cartier Street, though. The old building of West High School bears an even stronger resemblance to the Practical Arts building: http://meridiannh.com/images/centralwest/c1.jpg.

{ Dan Brian } on: September 30, 2011 at 11:03 AM said...

Thank you. I didn't feel right about that pic. I attended West and I constantly kept thinking, "Well, maybe things have changed that much over there." It just didn't look right to me. I think the pic above is mislabeled in the Historic Association's database, but I'll check on that and obviously amend this post.

Thanks again.

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