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Rogers candidate for historic registers

Thu., Sept. 23, 2010

Spokane Public Schools wants to place the old Rogers High School building on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the  few remaining art deco high school buildings in the country.  (Colin Mulvany)
Spokane Public Schools wants to place the old Rogers High School building on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the few remaining art deco high school buildings in the country. (Colin Mulvany)

Art deco lines make building stand out

When John R. Rogers High School was built in the early 1930s, the school board ordered old desks to be refinished and all of the new building materials to be purchased locally.

Even though the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, school officials and voters recognized the need to replace the cramped old Hillyard High School, but with an eye toward providing jobs and saving money.

On Feb. 1, 1932, the school’s 1,035 students and 34 teachers moved into the 34-room, three-story-tall building that has been acclaimed for its art deco architecture.

It is one of a relatively small number of high schools built in that architectural style around the country, said Spokane Public Schools Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson.

The 1932 building was restored and reopened a year ago as part of a larger expansion and modernization of Rogers under a 2003 bond measure.

Now, Spokane Public Schools wants to have Rogers listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Heritage Register.

Last week, the Spokane City-County Historic Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to recommend the nomination.

Stephen Emerson, a historic consultant who wrote the Rogers nomination, said he graduated from Rogers and is pleased at the way the district created a modern facility yet saved the historic structure.

“This nomination has a special place in my heart since I am an alumnus of Rogers High School, a proud one,” Emerson said.

“The spirit, you can just feel it,” he said. “The kids are having a great time. It’s a lot better than it was before.”

Jerry Baldwin, a member of the Spokane Preservation Advocates, told commissioners that he graduated from Rogers. “It was a sense of pride to go there,” he said.

Anderson told the commissioners that when the district met with members of the community on what they wanted in a new or restored high school, the community was clear that it wanted the historic building restored.

Lewis and Clark High School had been renovated a decade ago, and people in the Rogers area were adamant that they expected the same treatment, Anderson said.

LC was placed on the national register in 2001.

Landmarks commissioner Candi Coleman said, “I think this is an excellent example of what can go right in preservation.”

She said the new portion of the high school is distinct from the historic façade, which allows the historic building to have its own identity.

Kristen Griffin, historic preservation officer, said the architecture of Rogers “really takes your breath away when you come upon it.”

A staff writer for the Spokesman-Review in 1932 had a little different take on the exterior.

“It may lack in architectural frills and ornate frescoes of some public buildings, but it possesses a beauty of fitness and utility,” according to a story about the high school’s completion.

Art deco is a modern style that was internationally popular at the time Rogers was built, Emerson said in the nomination.

“First generation art deco buildings, like Rogers High School, boast zigzags, chevrons, circles, parallel and stepped-back lines and stylized vegetation,” the nomination says.

Emerson said it is fitting that Rogers was named after Washington’s populist Democratic governor who was first elected in 1896 as a champion of the downtrodden and advocate for reform.

The architects were John K. Dow and William A. Wells, who teamed up on the project. Wells designed other school buildings in the region, and Dow had made a career out of designing large new buildings following Spokane’s fire in 1889, Emerson said.

The recommendation for listing the building by the Spokane landmarks commission now goes before the Governor’s Advisory Council.

That council will hear the nomination at 10 a.m. on Oct. 14 at the Spokane Downtown Library, 906 W. Main Ave.

The National Park Service also must approve the nomination for a national register listing.

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