On October 31, 1927, a recital took place in the auditorium of the new Little Rock High School which served as a dedication ceremony for the new high school auditorium. The school had been serving students for several weeks by the time the recital took place. The first day of school was Wednesday, September 14, 1927.
The star of the recital was Mary Lewis, a Little Rock High School graduate (from the previous location on Scott Street) who had made her Metropolitan Opera debut and become a toast of New York City.
The evening started with remarks from former Arkansas Governor Charles Brough, who had made a name for himself as an advocate for education before, during and after his stint in the statehouse. He was followed by Miss Lewis, who sang over a dozen arias and musical selections. For her first encore, Miss Lewis sang “Dixie.” Her second encore was supposed to be “Home Sweet Home.” After several attempts to sing it, she was so overcome with emotion that she had to abandon the effort.
For more on the opening event, read Jay Jennings’ excellent book Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City.
The 1927 schoolbuilding replaced one built in 1905 at 14th and Scott Streets (with an auditorium completed a few years later at 14th and Cumberland). This new building was located in the western edges of Little Rock on what had been city parkland. The former West End Park was now site to Little Rock High School. The adjoining Kavanaugh Field was a baseball field on which Earl Quigley’s football Tigers also played their games.
Architects John Parks Almand, Lawson L. Delony, George R. Mann, Eugene John Stern, and George H. Wittenberg (virtually all of Little Rock’s full-time working architects at the time) designed the $1.5 million structure, which the New York Times dubbed the most expensive school ever built in the United States at that time.
Featuring a combination of Collegiate Gothic and Art Deco architecture, Central High spans two city blocks, comprising over 150,000 square feet of floor space, upon its completion. Requiring 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel, the finished product consisted of 100 classrooms (accommodating over 1,800 students), a fireproof 2,000-seat auditorium, a gymnasium, and a greenhouse.
The six-story structure (counting the bell tower and basement) features a middle section containing the auditorium with four classroom wings (two per side) flanking a reflection pool in the foreground of the building. Faced with brick, the building’s highlights include pilasters and colonnades of cut stone, double-hung window frames with twelve lights per sash, and a main entry terrace supported by a colonnade of five masonry arches rising above Corinthian columns of stone.