Booker T. Washington High School, New Orleans, LA

BTW Lions

History of Booker T. Washington High School

In 1881, the New Orleans School Board barred the city’s black students from attending public school beyond the sixth grade. However, in 1917, due to pressure from the black community, the school board relented and converted the McDonogh No. 13 campus, then located at 655 South Rampart Street, from a white boys elementary school to a public high school for black students and renamed the facility McDonogh No. 35. During much of the 1920s and early 1930s, the OPSB was further pressed into initiating discussions to consider the construction of a new high school for New Orleans’ black children as McDonogh No. 35’s campus had proved woefully inadequate to accommodate the city’s growing black community (Environmental/Historic Preservation (EHP) Program, 2011: 15-19). For example, census records indicate that 8,709 high school age (14-17 years) black children resided in Orleans Parish in 1930. Of these children, 2580 were enrolled at McDonogh No. 35, the city’s only black public high school, during the 1930-31 school year. Despite the fact that this number represented a mere 30% percent of the city’s black high school age population, it significantly taxed the McDonogh No. 35’s physical plant and led to overcrowded conditions. By 1940, the number of black high school age children in the city had ballooned to 11,238 (U.S. Department of the Census, 1940).

During the 1930s, as industrial production expanded throughout the U.S., community leaders within New Orleans began to express a desire that any planned new black high school focus on vocational subjects in addition to providing a more traditional academic curriculum. Many felt that such an education would prepare the city’s black students for employment in relatively high-paying emergent technical/trade careers, thus providing them with better opportunities in life. Still others felt that a vocational education was fitting for blacks because, as one school, superintendant stated, ‘….these Negro girls need to know how to cook so they can be good domestics. That’s all they’ll be anyhow. These Negro boys need to learn how to hammer and saw, to do something with their hands’ (Salassi, 1995: 9-10). Within New Orleans, only one vocational/industrial trade school had been built to serve the city’s children in the years prior to World War II. The facility, the Delgado Central Trades School, was erected in 1921 and attendance was limited to white boys only (State Department of Education of Louisiana, 17, 1938-39). At the same time, many within the city’s African-American community objected to this type of curriculum, as they felt that a college-preparatory education strongly based in classical academics of the same caliber offered to white students should be made available for their children. Furthermore, this school of thought held that a vocational/industrial education was an “insidious device designed to keep Negroes in a subordinate position” and functioned to insure “that blacks would lag behind whites intellectually” (Salassie, 1999: 5).

In 1938, the U.S. Public Works Authority awarded the OPSB a $550,720 grant to finance the construction of new schools within the city of New Orleans. Using funds from this grant in addition money raised by a city “bond issue of ten million dollars,” the OPSB initiated the construction of the first new high school built in the New Orleans specifically to educate black students. Initially, the school board had determined that the school would be an “out-and out trade school. However, the OPSB soon changed course and decided that a “comprehensive” education, which provided both “academic and vocational classes,” would better ‘fulfill the need of all pupils it is to serve’ (Salassie, 1999: 27). Upon their graduation, this high school’s pupils would receive a diploma which would “indicate that they had specialized in certain subjects” (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 9). In April of 1940, the OPSB purchased a parcel that was bounded by Erato, Prieur, South Roman, and Clio Streets for the construction of the new black high school. The property was located within a predominantly African-American community in New Orleans known as “Central City” and sat directly adjacent to the Calliope Housing Projects (later known as the B.W. Cooper Homes), a 690-unit, “low rent…development for negro residents” that was erected in 1939-40 at a site once known as the ‘Silver City Dump.’ The cost of the Calliope development was $4,000,000 (Times-Picayune, June 20, 1939: 1). On September 13, 1940 the school was officially named the “Booker T. Washington Senior High School” as a tribute to Booker T. Washington, a leading black educator and activist during the late 19th century and early 20th century who had passionately argued the benefits of a vocational education to the African-American community.

As construction of the school was initiated, the OPSB set about to establish the curriculum and determined that half of the student’s time would “be spent in the trades,” while the other half would be dedicated to academic classes. Although a number of vocational classes would be offered, the OPSB declared that there would be ‘no training for artisans…there would be no beauty culture department or no metal work in gold and silver” consequently diminishing the black graduates’ access to these professions, which had been traditionally dominated by whites. Construction of the physical plant was completed in August 1942 (Salassie, 1995; 12).

The school opened with much fanfare on September 6, 1942. Lawrence D. Crocker served as BTW High School’s first principal. In addition to the principal, the school’s faculty initially included “seven industrial arts teachers, 18 home economics teachers, 14 academic teachers, a ranking teacher, two coordinators, a correlator, and a counselor” (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 9). The school boasted an enrollment of 1600 children in its 1942-43 school year (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 9). Classes offered included shoe repair, biology, social science, physical education, graphic arts, home economics, vocal/music, masonry, woodworking, math, english, and instrumental music (OSPB, 1942-43: 110). The physical plant included “a cafeteria which accommodated 900 pupils at a time…, a small but fairly well-equipped library, first aid rooms for girls and boys, lavatories on each of the three floors, and 50 large, wellventilated, well-lighted classrooms (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 9). The facility also included an auditorium, which was made available for “public meetings, other schools’ programs’, big band or orchestra concerts and recitals, demonstrations, out-of school socials, church affairs, and other activities permitted by the school board” (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 16). War bond rallies held at the auditorium between 1942 and 1945 raised thousands of dollars and enabled the city’s black residents to contribute to the war effort. The earliest of such events was held in the auditorium on November 1942. The drive included a dinner and presentation that was hosted by singer/actor Clarence Muse and resulted in the sale of $10,000 in war bonds (Times-Picayune, 1942: 10). A bond rally held in June 1944, featured stars of the day such as Muriel Khan and raised nearly $400,000 in bond sales (Times-Picayune, 1944: 6).

Only a year after the school opened, the OPSB eased admittance standards, which had previously limited entry to those pupils who had “satisfactorily” completed the “work of elementary school” (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 11). As a result, a relatively large number of students were admitted to BTW in the 1943-44 school year, which led to overcrowding at the school. In addition, on February 12, 1943 the OPSB granted the local US Army headquarters permission to use the school’s facilities to train men in woodworking and carpentry, further straining the school’s already limited resources (OPSB, 1943: 597). In an effort to alleviate the situation, a small number of students were transferred to McDonough No. 35, the only other black public high school in New Orleans (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 11).

The 1944-45 school year witnessed two major events, the construction of a Shop Building on the campus grounds and a serious fire within the main school building, which occurred on February 4, 1945 and caused in excess of $1200.00 in damage (OPSB, 1944: 259 and 1945: 336). Newspaper accounts also note that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held its local chapter’s annual meeting at the BTW auditorium in March 1945. With nationally known figures in attendance, the organization delivered a powerful message to the community in which it outlined its goals for the blacks in America. Specifically, at this meeting the NAACP called for “…the right of franchise, better housing conditions, equal education and economic advantages, and opportunities to serve community police and fire departments…” for all New Orleans’ African-American residents (TimesPicayune, 1945: 15).

In late 1945, following the close of World War II, BTW High School opened its doors to the community’s returning black war veterans with the establishment of the BTW Afternoon Center, which provided vocational training to veterans on a 12-month basis (OPSB, 1945: 493). Later, in 1946, a new department called the BTW Summer School for Vets was established to teach automotive, shoe repair, woodworking, painting and decorating, and masonry to the community’s former servicemen (OPSB, 1946: 538, 539). At the same time, BTW was facing a large influx of new students who, due to their employment in wartime industries, had not attended school previously. The increased number of students further taxed BTW’s facilities, exacerbating already overcrowded conditions to the extent that Lionel Bourgeois, the Orleans Parish Public School Superintendant, noted that “Booker T. Washington High School…is no longer able to accept additional promotions from the elementary schools…this lack of facilities for Negroes has now reached a point where the OPSB may be confronted with a legal situation involving rights guaranteed under the federal constitution” (Times-Picayune, 1947: 7). In order to alleviate these conditions, in 1947 the OPSB established the Joseph Clark High School within a physical plant formerly known as Edward Douglass (E. D.) White, a former elementary school built for white students in 1924 (BTW Senior High School, 1954: 11). The school, which served 250 students in its first year, was located at Dumaine and N. Johnson, and provided a curriculum that was limited to the 9th grade (Times-Picayune, 1947: 4).

As noted in school board meeting minutes, in 1947 the OPSB enlisted BTW’s Industrial Arts program to assist with the production of materials for the construction of an Auto Mechanics Shop and a Greenhouse. This building program, which would provide additional space for the school’s expanding vocational and agricultural curriculum, was funded by the Louisiana State Department of Education (OPSB, 1947: 169, 170). Lord and Burnham Division Corp provided the materials for this project and Rau and Company acted as the general contractors. The project was completed in December 1948 (OPSB, 1948: 417). That same year, a study of the facility concluded the OPSB had neglected its maintenance obligations to the school as its noted that “drinking fountains, toilets, and sinks were faulty on all floors” (Times-Picayune, 1948: 3). Responding to a clear job training need during the 1948-49 school year, Cosmetology classes were first offered at BTW High School.

In 1949, the OPSB authorized the expansion of the school’s curriculum with the addition of “short unit courses” for the training of practical nurses (these classes would not actually be offered until 1959). The OPSB planned to offer this course in cooperation with local hospitals, with the hospitals providing funding for supplies and the OPSB furnishing the teachers and classroom space (OPSB, 1949: 90 and Times-Picayune, 1950: 18). That same year, the OPSB initiated the construction of the Potting Shed and Agricultural Building. Both buildings were completed by 1951. As a final achievement, BTW emerged as a local sports powerhouse as its football team, the Lions, won both the city championship and the state title in 1949 and 1950 (Huff, 2009: 1).

Throughout the 1940s, the school’s auditorium played host to a range of events for organizations such as the State Baptist Review, Children’s Christian Association, NAACP, the Negro division of the Mary F. Reams Gardening Club, the Negro division of the Louisiana Education Association, the OPSB, and the New Orleans Negro Teacher’s Association. The New Orleans Symphony also regularly conducted its rehearsals at the auditorium and commencement ceremonies for the community’s black schools were typically held here. Be-Bop jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie played at the school’s auditorium on March 25, 1949. Although the concert itself was well received, Gillespie reported to the police that his dressing room had been broken into and robbed that night (Times-Picayune, 1949: 5). On October 9, 1950 Rhythm & Blues musicians Good Time Charles Brown and His Smarties appeared before an integrated audience at the auditorium. An argument amongst several concertgoers ensued resulting in a shootout in which six patrons were injured and one was shot dead. As a result of this event, in addition to the Gillespie robbery the year before, in 1951 the OPSB superintendant determined that events held at the auditorium would be limited to those of “cultural value” (OPSB, 1951: 534).

In January 1950, the OPSB met with the New Orleans Negro Teacher’s Association at the BTW High School auditorium to announce a $4,950,000.00 building program for the improvement of black schools in New Orleans. BTW, then the city’s premier African-American high school, was slated to benefit from these funds. Despite BTW’s commitment to providing the highest level of comprehensive education to its students, the school continued to suffer from overcrowded conditions and, therefore, the OPSB noted the need to increase facility’s capacity. A study committee evaluated the facility in 1953 to determine the areas that were in need of improvement/expansion. The study noted that the school was in need of improved audio-visual materials, more extensive business education courses, better library facilities, new lockers in shower rooms and in the corridors, and a better equipped clinic. The study also recommended that a gymnasium be built (Southern Association of College and Schools, 1962: 2-4). As late as 1957, the school was holding gym classes in its basement, with 30 teachers instructing an average of 750 students every week. This situation put the school in danger of being placed on probation by the Southern Association of Schools (TimesPicayune, 1957: 33). In order to remedy these conditions, in 1962 the OPSB announced the launch of a building program to include the construction of the “Booker T. Washington Addition and Gymnasium Annex.” The annex was a freestanding, three-story edifice that was sited to the west of the campus’s main school building. Covered walkways joined the new annex and the main school building. The annex housed a gymnasium, 16 classrooms, and laboratories. Once completed, the building held the capacity to accommodate an additional 2400 pupils (Times-Picayune, 1964: 57). Dubbed the “Lion’s Den,” the gym would prove to be a benefit to the greater community as well as the school’s student body as it was often filled “…to capacity for basketball games.” The annex’s construction was completed by 1965. Later that year, the school’s facilities were further augmented when General Motors donated “…one complete functional 8-cylinder Chevrolet engine, a powerglide transmission, assorted carburetors, electrical components, and a power steering unit to the school” (Washingtonian, 1965: 1-2).

The school’s football team continued to dominate its competition into the 1970s, besting its rivals to win the Louisiana Interscholastic, Athletic and Literary Organization title in 1970 and, in 1973, the coveted Louisiana High School Athletic Association Class 4A state championship. In addition, the school’s track and basketball teams each emerged as a state powerhouse during this period (Huff, 2005: 1).

The 1970s proved to be a time of great change in the school’s history. In the past, the school had provided a comprehensive academic/vocational education to its students. However, in the early 1970s this “dual track” curriculum was shelved for one that was primarily academic due largely to “education reformers and civil rights activists who lobbied against vocational education for black students and for integrated college preparatory high schools.” This sentiment was rooted in the belief that a vocational education would guarantee that blacks were locked in lowwage jobs (Thevenot, 2004:1). The school also underwent changes to its physical plant with an interior and exterior renovation that was undertaken in 1973. Local architect R.P. Gandolfo oversaw the project’s design.

By the 1980s, the majority of BTW’s students resided in one of three nearby public housing projects: B.W. Cooper (former known as the Calliope Homes and originally erected in 1939-41); C.J. Peete (formerly known as the Magnolia home and originally erected in 1941); and Guste (formerly known as the Melpomene Homes and originally constructed in 1964). When initially built, the B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, and Guste developments served as housing for working-class African-American residents and were widely regarded as some of the most stable housing for blacks within the city. However, by the early 1970s, this housing began a precipitous decline in desirability, culminating in residents’ occupation of the headquarters of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), the local agency charged with the authority to oversee public housing, in July 1982.

Of primary concern to the residents participating in this protest were HANO’s ineffective efforts to resolve the unsafe, unsanitary, and deteriorated conditions that existed at these housing complexes (Arena, 94: 2007)

At the same time, as the wider Central City neighborhood began to experience a decline, lack of the OPSB’s maintenance of BTW’s physical plant contributed to substandard conditions at the school to the extent that an account dating from 1981 noted that “the building has all of the outward physical characteristics of a blighted urban school. Windows are boarded-up, paint is peeling. There isn’t a blade of grass around…” (Litwin, 1981:1). It is noted that the high quality curriculum that formerly distinguished the school also began to fall off by the 1980s. In addition, the numbers of students enrolled at the school also began to diminish in the early 1980s in concert with the campus’ and surrounding neighborhood’s decline. For example, in 1979, 1798 students were enrolled at the school and, by 1980, the population increased somewhat and stood at 1875. However, by 1983, the student body’s population stood at 1066 (New Orleans Public Schools, 1983-84). To combat these conditions, in 1981, BTW reached back into its past and initiated an award-winning vocational program that endeavored to train students for agricultural-based employment opportunities. The course was classified as a “Cooperative Agriculture and Education Program,” with students receiving both course credit and a salary whilst receiving practical experience in an agribusiness occupation. The program’s curriculum included “orientation to horticulture, plant propagation, plant science, agrimechanics, agriculture economics, agribusiness, and control of plant and soil pests.” Veteran teacher Floyd Jenkins oversaw the program, which utilized the campus’ potting shed and greenhouse. The students also planted a vegetable garden. The program extended from the 10th grade to the 12th grade and all students enrolled in this elective course became members of the Future Farmers of America. (Litwin, 1981:1, 24).

A 1991 study of BTW painted the then 50-year old facility as a school in crisis. Specifically, a task force charged with assessing the school labeled it “dysfunctional and replete with absenteeism, apathy, fear and decay” (Narbonne, 1991: B6). The task force also noted declining test scores and

low graduation rates at the school and identified declining enrollment (just 748 students in 1990); high absenteeism; poverty, escalating crime rates, and declining populations in adjacent neighborhoods; on-campus violence; apathy on behalf of some staff/faculty; dysfunctional relationships between the school’s principal and faculty; the “failure of the administration to provide Washington with enough money and human resources…”; and poorly-qualified faculty as the primary causes of the school’s condition (Narbonne, 1991: B6). The OPSB sought to remedy the school’s dire conditions by appointing a new principal and pledging to increase security, “…upgrade instruction, revive once-flourishing vocational-technical programs and create a sense of family on campus.” The school board also bussed seventh and eighth graders from the newlyclosed Derham Middle School to Booker T. in order to increase its enrollment (Narbonne, 1991: B6). Despite these actions, in 1994, BTW was still in need of over $1,000,000 in renovations. The school lacked air conditioning and because the heating system was not in working order, the campus was forced to shut down during extreme cold weather (New Orleans Tribune, 1994: 1-2). Holes in walls and broken water fountains were commonplace as OPSB was typically slow to address maintenance and upkeep issues. The school was slated for improvement by 1997, including the installation of air conditioning and new flooring, as part of the OPSB’s $175 million capital improvements program that was to be financed with a voter-approved bond issue (Narbonne, 1997: 1)

In an effort to improve test scores and “motivate the students…” in 1994, then principal Ronald Taylor and “Agriscience” instructor Floyd Jenkins (the instructor behind the 1981 agriculture program) initiated a new aquaculture program that engaged students in the breeding, raising, processing, and marketing of catfish. The school’s administration reasoned that such a program would teach the students “…the basics of business and marketing, science and technology of raising of catfish, and skills necessary to keeping track of revenue.” (New Orleans Tribune, 1994: 1-2). This program proved so successful that in 1997 it expanded to include tilapia, bass, coy and other fish. At the time, the fish were raised in ten to 800 gallon tanks, the first of which were purchased using a $3,000 grant from the United Way. The program yielded such a large number of fish that the school was able to supply excess product to local homeless shelters. Jenkins’ aquaculture program was eventually incorporated into the school’s regular agriculture curriculum, which every 7th and 8th grade student was required to take. In 1997, the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education awarded Jenkins the Leavey Award for his efforts. (Faciane, 1997: 1A1).

The air conditioning that was funded by the 1997 bond issue was eventually installed at BTW in 2001.   (Warner, 2001:1) A year later, on September 18, a two-alarm fire of unknown cause broke out in a room on the school’s second floor, destroying much of the school’s student records (Times-Picayune, 2002:1). In 2002 the BTW High School and Auditorium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to its significance to the local community “as a milestone in the development of secondary public school education for blacks in New Orleans.”

In 2004, testing revealed that BTW students tested the lowest in the state’s academic-accountability program while at the same time its enrollment had plummeted to 383 pupils. As a result, the school was forced to suspend its “failed academic program” and institute a strictly vocational/technical curriculum for the 2005-06 school year (Huff, 2005:1). The school was also required to discontinue its athletics programs. Under this new curriculum, the school would “…no longer administer standardized tests or be rated as part of the state’s accountability program (Thevenot, 2004:1). Students seeking a traditional academic diploma would have to attend other high schools, but they could commute to Washington in the morning or afternoon.” The program was limited to a half day and subjects offered included auto mechanics, graphic arts, brick masonry, barbering and agriculture. (Thevenot, 2004:1). Also, despite staff and community objection, the OPSB, in concert with the school’s principal William Giles, planned to establish an alternative high school within the campus to include 200 students that had previously been expelled from other public high schools within the Orleans Parish school system. This alternative high school was proposed to be located within the Booker T. Annex, which was at the time being used to house General Education Development preparation courses (Thevenot, 2005: 1). On August 18, 2005 the school opened as a full vocational center with 250 students (Cortex, 2005: 1). However, eleven days later, on Monday, August 29, the school year was abruptly suspended when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana (NOAA, 2012).

When Katrina made landfall in the southern portion of the state, it was classified as a “Category Three” hurricane with winds in excess of 125 miles per hour. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the hurricane was the “most destructive storm in terms of economic losses” to ever strike the United States (NOAA, 2007). The high winds, heavy rains, and widespread flooding of Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and resulted in extensive damage to Orleans Parish’s built environment, including BTW campus. The surrounding housing projects in which the majority of the school’s students resided also suffered devastation. (Grossest, 2010 and Rilea, 2005. 1).

Upon a review of the conditions of the city’s public schools in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, OPSB officials estimated that it would take “three to five years and about $800 million to repair the damage caused…” by the storms (D’Amico, 2006: 28). At the same time, the Recovery School District (RSD), “a special school district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education” that was created in 2003 to manage underperforming schools in the state, was given the authority to operate 107 of the lowest-performing public schools in Orleans Parish, including BTW (RSD, 2006: 4) and (D’Amico, 2006: 28). Specifically, while the OPSB retained ownership of the property, the RSD managed the campus and held all of the “rights and responsibilities of ownership as authorized by the Louisiana State legislature under Act 35” (Boothman-Shepard, 2012).

By June 2006, the RSD and the OPSB had spent over $100 million to fast track the repair and reopening of 25 schools within Orleans Parish (Boothman-Shepard, 2012). The RSD and the NOPS had planned on reopening of 32 campuses later that year, including BTW, to support the nearly 34,000 pupils that they estimated would be enrolled in the city’s public school system in 2007. The RSD and the OPSB considered BTW to be an “Alternate School Site,” and thus targeted it for inclusion in this building improvement campaign because they determined that the campus “…had the capacity to accommodate greater student populations by utilizing the existing school buildings or by utilizing the site for modular buildings at the site” (RSD, 2006: 34 and D’Amico, 2006: 28). The school was rehabilitated, but the RSD was not able to meet its initial targeted reopen date of September 7, 2006 due to electrical and mechanical failures that lead to extensive flooding within the school every time it rained. Registration was suspended and the 31 students that had previously been previously enrolled for the 2006-07 school year were transferred to different high schools. (RSD, 2006). The school’s opening was further delayed when, in early 2007, thieves stripped BTW of its copper wiring and pipes (Rilea, 1: 2007). Despite these obstacles the school rehabilitated and subsequently reopened on August 11, 2007 (TP, 2007: 1). It is noted that only the non-historic annex building was made available for occupation during the 2007-2008 school year. In 2008, the RSD suspended all repairs of the historic school building because they determined that “the facility would lose its ability to operate below-grade space due to the flood plain elevation requirements” (Boothman-Shepard, 2012). After several attempts at a redesign of the building so that it would conform to the RSD’s “Education and Specifications and Performance Standards” as outlined in the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish, the RSD held a number of public meetings with “community leaders representing alumni associations, former school leadership and graduates” to determine the campus’s future use. At these meetings, the Community consensus was that the school be rebuilt at its present site. The then Louisiana School Superintendent recommended to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that the historic school, annex, and outbuildings be demolished and the historic auditorium be retained, rehabilitated and integrated into new a construction of the school at the site. BESE “passed the measure as part of its capital projects docket.” The RSD and community members accepted the

Superintendent’s proposed course of action. The historic school, annex and outbuildings are proposed for demolition in mid-2012 (BoothmanShepard, 2012).

Architectural character: Erected in 1940-42, BTW is a three-story school building with an attached, taller auditorium. The building’s exterior walls are combed brown face brick with decorative cast contrete detailing. The building’s interior space features gender-segregated stair cases, doubleloaded classroom corridors at the second and third floors, a large central cafeteria at the first floor, and a centrally-located sun court at the second and third floors. The auditorium’s interior space, which holds seating for as much as 2000 patrons, retains much of its original Art Deco detailing and houses an open cavernous space with a raised stage and seating on the ground floor. A balcony contains stepped seating and a projection room within its balcony.

Condition of fabric: In 2005, the building suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina. A series of flooding events in 2006 and 2007 resulted in further damage to the BTW building. The facility has also been subject to looting. Currently the bulding is vacant, all utilities have been shut off, and the exterior first floor openings been covered with plywood to protect it from further vandalism. Although the building appears to be structurally sound, it currently has deteriorated to a poor condition. Much of its interior finishes and light fixtures have been damaged or removed with standing water observed in the basemnt. Copper pipes and wires have been stripped from the building, which has led its electrical and mecahnical systems to fail. Bird feces and debris litters the school’s upper two stories. The building’s exterior walls remain in good condition. However, several window sashes display broken/missing glazing or are boarded over and hardware is inoperable. All cafeteria roof sklights have broken/damaged glazing.

Overall dimensions: The facility is irregular in plan that and is composed of a school building with an adjacent auditorium. The school building features a three-story central mass with one-story wings at the west façade above grade and a below-grade, partial basement. BTW is asymmetrical in form, as its primary entry bay/pavillion, which is located on its school building’s east/southeast façade and measures 50’-7 1/2” above the first

finished floor, is flanked by a lower three-bay wing to the south and a lower eight-bay wing to the north. The building’s eight-bay northern wing is finished by the taller, massive auditorium which further reinforces its form’s asymmetry. Overall dimensions measure 294’-1” at the front facade, 177’-9” on north/northeast (side) façade, 350’-10” at east/north (rear) façade, and 198’-5” on south/southwest (side) facade.

Foundations: The building features a 12” thick, steel reinforced concrete foundation wall that extends 10′-0″ below the first floor finish level. The concrete slab floor above is supported on concrete beams and columns. The columns are a nominal 12″ square and the column grid is not regular as they are set from 17′-7″ apart to 23′-6 3/4″ in the basement.

Walls: The building’s exterior walls are primarily clad with modular, 4” wythe, brown face brick, laid in a common bond with a header row every sixth course. The exterior brick also features a combed texture. The exterior face brick is attached to hollow tile and concrete walls that have an interior plaster finish. The overall thickness of the walls, including face brick, is 2′-4.” A single brick soldier course, punctuated at regular intervals by cast iron grilles, marks the exterior walls’ base. The primary facades (west and east) feature fluted cast concrete spandrel panels. Cast concrete panels also provide the finish material for the primary façade window sills and lintels, door framing members/pilasters, and porch eaves. At the east and west facades, a 7′- 0” concrete band forms the top edge of the roof’s parapet and spans between the pilasters. A single header course of brick serves as the window sills at the building’s secondary facades. An unpainted cast concrete panel that reads “Booker T. Washington Public High School” adds to the unpainted decorative cast concrete panel above the building’s main entry porch roof and adorns the south/southeastern primary façade. The roof parapets at the east façade and one at the south façade also feature an unpainted, fluted cast concrete coping while the secondary façades each have a painted concrete coping that is more utilitarian in form. Each of the building’s bays at the east/northeast and west/southwest façades are marked by articulated brick pilasters that separate vertically-oriented banks/bands of windows and are also punctuated by decorative concrete spandrels. Articulated brick pilasters and vertical bands of single-light window sashes found on the auditorium’s front/primary facade echo this theme. The corners of the auditorium’s exterior walls are rounded, lending to a streamlined appearance and repeating a motif expressed by the rounded corners found at the canopy roofs that shelter the building’s exterrior entrances.

Structural system, framing: The structural system consists of a concrete column frame with concrete slab floors.

Porches, stoops, balconies, porticoes, bulkheads: The north façade features four concrete staircases, three with brick with balustrades and concrete caps. A set of paired metal doors open at each porch open to the building’s interior space. The fourth concrete staircase has metal handrails. This entrance has been covered with plywood panels.

Canopies cover three porches at the building’s east/southeast primary façade: one which shelters the school building’s main entry; a porch that leads to a secondary entrance into the school building and auditorium; and a porch that leads into the auditorium’s main entrance. The school’s main entrance features a projecting three-door, flat-roof entry bay/vestibule. The walls at this vestibule are clad with face brick and are topped with a decorative cast concrete fluted coping. Each of the three doors at this entry is original to the building’s construction and features a brushed aluminum frame with a full-length vision panel and a single-light, brushed aluminum-frame transom. This entry vestibule features a terrazzo tile floor and its walls are finished with marble panels. A decorative fluted plaster molding which echoes the porch’s coping is located at the ceiling/wall junction. The porch also retains its original elaborately detailed plaster ceiling. A flat concrete slab roof, featuring rounded edges and clad with fluted cast concrete panels, shelters this entrance. The doorway is framed by concrete pilasters that are finished with fluted concrete panels. A concrete staircase and brick balustrades with concrete caps leads to this entrance, which opens into a vestibule with a lobby/trophy room beyond. The secondary entrance to the school’s interior space, which is located directly to the west of the auditorium on the building’s south façade, is sheltered by a porch that features a concrete flat roof with rounded edges and a concrete door frame, both of which are clad with fluted cast concrete panels. A concrete staircase with brick balustrades and concrete caps leads to this entrance. A third south façade porch provides shelter to the auditorium’s primary entrance. This porch also has a flat concrete slab canopy with rounded edges and fluted cast concrete panel cladding. A monumental two-flight, straight run, concrete staircase with concrete landings, brick balustrades with concrete caps, and concrete detailing lead to this porch. The balustrades are terminated on each side by a pedestal form topped by a concrete lion. The lions are not original to the building’s construction. Three doorways at this entrance, each including a set of paired aluminum doors with 2-light vision panels and a five-light transom, lead to the Auditorium’s lobby.

Two concrete staircases with brick balustrades and concrete caps are located at the building’s west façade. Each of these west façade staircases lead to entrances that include four doors (now boarded over) with transoms. A non-historic flat metal roof on metal columns has been appended to the west façade’s northern end.

Two similar porches are located on the building’s south façade. Each of these porches includes a concrete staircase, and brick balustrades with concrete caps. A flat concrete slab clad with fluted cast concrete panels serves as individual porch roofs. Each porch also features three nonhistoric wood doors topped with multiple-light transoms.

Chimneys: The building’s one exterior chimney is located on the south façade. Specifically, the structure displays a roughly pentagonal shape and was erected to serve as a smokestack for the boiler rooms. The smokestack is appended to the exterior wall of the facility’s boiler rooms, which are located on both its basement and first story. The smokestack features a stepped cast concrete band at its cap and face brick completes the exterior. It is lined with fire brick and cast brick fill. The belt course is cast ‘cement’ (based on the original drawing notations), and measures 13 1/2″ in width.


  1. Doorways and doors:

Southwest façade doors: Doors at this façade include non-original metal overhead rollup doors that open to interior shops at the northernmost bay; paired metal doors, some topped with a multiple-light transom. The remaining eight doors on this façade are covered with plywood panels.

Southeast façade doors: Doors types found at this façade include historicage single aluminum-frame doors with full-length vision panels, each topped with a single-light transom and historic-age paired aluminum doors with two-light vision and multiple-light transom. Remaining doors on this façade have been covered with plywood panels.

Northwest façade doors: The doors located on this façade are tripled nonhistoric wood doors with a single vision panel and a multiple-light transom.

Northeast façade doors: This façade features are non-historic, paired and single metal doors with a multiple-light transom. One door on this façade has been covered with plywood panels.

  1. Windows and shutters: The majority of the building’s exterior fenestration is historic-age, wood-sash and frame, two- or one-light awning units that are grouped in banks. In some cases sashes have been removed and replaced with metal louvered vents to accommodate modern air conditioning needs. Some sashes have also been replaced with plywood panels. Additionally, vertical bands of single-light steel-sash combination awning and fixed sash windows appear on the exterior walls of the building’s auditorium. Each of the auditorium’s window bands are recessed and decorative cast concrete panels act as lintels. Steel sash, single-light awning windows also appear on the school building’s southeast façade, above its two entry porches. Three-light, steel-sash windows are located along the exterior walls that face onto the light court/cafeteria roof. Non-historic window types include one-over-one aluminum-sash units at the north façade’s first story.


Shape, covering: Original drawings indicate that the building’s roof is a flat concrete slab roof that is covered with built-up, composition roofing materials. The roof features a brick parapet with concrete coping. Flashings are made of copper material.

Cornice, eaves: The flat roof features a brick parapet with a colored concrete coping throughout with the exception of the parapet at the primary and secondary entry bay on the school building’s southeast façade and at an entrance on the building’s east façade, which features an unpainted decorative cast concrete coping.

  1. Dormers, cupolas, towers:

Floor plans: As orignally constucted, BTW High School featured an irregular-plan, that was composed of a school building with an adjacent auditorium. The school building featured a central, rectangular one-story cafeteria and associated kitchen facilities that were enclosed on all four sides by recreation areas, restrooms, a boiler room, a shop, and two adminstrative offices on the first floor. The first floor’s main interior space, the cafeteria, has five concrete columns placed 23′-4″ from both the north and the south to walls provide support to the “light court’ walls above. Four equally-spaced columns of a diameter of 1’-0” support the cafeteria’s roof. At the building’s second and third stories, double-loaded corridors (long central hallways that are flanked/ lined on each side by classrooms) surround the the cafeteria roof below. The innermost rows of classrooms at the building’s upper two stories feature windows that open toward the light court/atrium area above the cafeteria roof.

As previously noted, the auditorium is connected to the school building’s southeast façade and includes a lobby, stage, back stage, and seating area at the first floor and a stepped seating area with a projection room at the balcony. Steel columns support the balcony and structural hollow clay tile walls were used in the construction of the east and west back stage walls. The north wall of the stage area contained concrete columns and beams to support the fly loft area. The concrete columns were spaced 17′-7″, 8′- 9″, 8′- 9″, and 17′- 7″ apart. The stage floor was spanned with concrete joists and slab with a wood finish floor. The stage is elevated 9′- 4″ above the cafeteria floor. At the second story, a concrete beam spans the 12″ hollow tile north wall of the stage. Also, at this story, a 14’-10” x 15’-1 ½” lounge flank’s each side of the lobby’s upper level. A segmented arched ceiling spans the width of the auditorium.

Stairways: The original school building has six staircases. The

Auditorium has three staircases.

Four of the school building’s staircases are located directly outside of the central cafeteria/kitchen. They are three-story, side-by side, half-turn staircases with landings and were originally gender-segregated, with the boys relegated to one staircase and the girls to the opposite side staircase. A plaster-finished concrete balustrade topped with a wood handrail separates the two staircases. Identical balustrades frame the staircases. These staircases are cast- concrete with steel stringers and a terrazzo finish floor. Baseboards are marble. The fifth staircase is located in lobby that connects the auditorium with the school building. It is features a six-rise, straight run concrete staircase that is finished with terrazzo. The concrete balustrades are topped with Art Deco-inspired rounded, brushed aluminum handrails. The sixth staircase is located on the second story and serves as a passage from the school building to the auditorium’s balcony. It is a straight run of concrete stairs. Handrails are metal.

As noted above, there are three staircases in the auditorium. All three are of a similar construction, as each is concrete with terrazzo flooring with wooden hand rails with brass fittings. Two of these staircases are quarterturn stairways that lead from the “entrance lobby” to the seating area above. The third staircase in auditorium is located to the northeast of the stage. It is a three-story concrete straight run side-by-side staircase with landings. A concrete balustrade separates the up and down flights. Floors are also terrazzo tile here and handrails are also wooden with brass fittings. The auditorium’s balcony itself features stairs with concrete tread and risers with metal safety treads for all steps. The uppermost crossover of the balcony is 26′- 4″ above the cafeteria floor elevation while the first crossover of the balcony is at a 10’-2″ height.

Flooring: Much of the floors at the school building’s first story are unfinished concrete. Terrazzo tile remains at the auditorium’s first story. Flooring at the school building’s second and third stories is primarily 12”x 12” cream colored and black-and-white vinyl tile, which appears in corridors and most classrooms. A small number of classrooms retain their historic wood, concrete and cream colored terrazzo tile flooring appears in the bathrooms.

Wall and ceiling finish: Walls are primarily painted plaster. A small number of walls on the first floor are painted drywall. Marble appears in the bathrooms and is also used in the first story main lobby/trophy room. The walls in the auditorium’s entry lobby feature decorative concrete fluted plaster pilasters and decorative plaster moldings at the ceiling/wall junction. Decorative fluted plaster bands also frame the auditorium’s stage and accent the balcony and the ground floor’s walls. Baseboards, when present, either are marble or wood. Ceiling finishes include exposed concrete, non-historic acoustical tile, painted plaster. Historic acoustical tile which display hand painted decorative detailing adorn the auditorium’s ceiling.


Doorways and doors: Historic doors are typically single, hinged wood paneled doors with multiple-light vision panels and single-light transom. Additional door types included non-historic hollow metal doors, flush wood doors, and flush wood doors with a single-light vision panel. A bank of single metal doors lead from the auditorium lobby to the seating area. Quad-fold wood doors are located in a second-story classroom. Door frames are wood or metal.

Windows: Original plans note that the cafeteria ceiling once had nine large skylights which provided natural light to the space below. These skylights measured 8’- 0” wide by 16′- 0” to 32’’- 0” long. The glazing and framing for these windows have been removed leaving the ceiling open to the elements. The interior window sills for all exterior windows, when present, are wood.

Decorative features and trim: Of particular note are the wood, historic-age, built-in cabinets located in Room 320/321 (the cosmetology classroom) and those located in Rooms 316/318. Many of the second- and third-story classrooms also retain their historic-age chalkboards, some of which are vertical-sliding boards. The auditorium retains notable decorative features that date from to its construction. Specific elements within the auditorium that have not been previously mentioned in this document include the perforated metal and wood grilles which serve to vent the space and cover speaker equipment; bands of fluted plaster at the balcony face; in the entrance lobby, above doors and windows at the first floor and above windows at the balcony a spectacular cast arched ceiling is adorned with the original ornamental painted acoustical tiles.

Hardware: Much of the building’s original window hardware is missing or damaged. Remaining historic door hardware includes metal door knobs and handles.

Mechanical equipment:

Heating, air conditioning, ventilation: The building’s heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems are currently inoperable and many components have been removed/damaged. A review of what remains indicates that the building was heated via a boiler, which was located in mechanical rooms on the basement and first story. Exterior wall chase at the building’s south/southwest façade carried hot air to interior wall mounted, non-historic radiators that delivered heat to its interior spaces. The building’s central air conditioning system, added ca. 2001, consists of ceiling-mounted air handlers that were fed by large cooling towers located on the building’s roof. Operable windows originally were used for passive cooling.

Lighting: Most of the building’s original lighting has been replaced with fluorescent, ceiling mounted light fixtures. Currently, all of these fixtures are inoperable and appear damaged beyond repair. Also present within the auditorium seating/stage area are fluted metal suspended pendants, which were added to seating/stage area during the 1973 renovation. Although the original pendants have been replaced, the ceiling-mounted metal housing for the historic lighting system’s wiring still remains. The only remaining historic-age light fixtures of note are the Art-Deco style pendants that are located in the auditorium lobby. Specifically, each of these lights consist of a round, metal ceiling mounted plate, a metal stem and a glass drum/shade that is enclosed by a decorative metal enclosure.

Plumbing: No elements of the building’s plumbing system were readily visible for inspection as much of its elements have been removed by looters.

Original furnishings: Remaining original/historic furnishing of note includes the marble stalls found on the first, second, and third-story bathrooms. The bathroom stalls at the first story also retain their original wood doors. Additional significant remaining historic furniture includes the auditorium’s seating. Original auditorium chairs each feature a decorative iron base with contoured folding wood seat and back. The auditorium’s historic-age curtains include traveler curtains, which were made from a velvet-like material, and an asbestos guillotine curtain, which separates the stage from the open proscenium area. Finally, the second and third stories corridors are lined with what appear to be historic-age lockers.

Historic landscape design: It appears as though the site does not retain any historic-age or orignal landscpe features or plantings. Greenspace does exist at the building’s east, north, and west façade, however none of the plantings are of any significant age. A large parking lot and grassy lawn to the south of the school building/auditorium appears to have relatively recently. Concrete sidewalks are located along the building’s east, south, and north facades. The entire campus is enclosed by high non-historic age fencing that is composed of a number of differt materials. An aluminum picket-type security fence with concrete posts and a chain link fence marks the property’s east/southeasterm perimeter; chain link and concrete block with aluminum picket-type fencing is found at the eastern perimeter; concrete block is located to the northern perimeter; and an aluminum picket-type security fence lines the facility’s western perimeter.

Historic Outbuildings:

The Garage/Auto Mechanics Shop was erected ca. 1948 to the southwest of the main school building. The one-story resource, which is rectangular in plan, is oriented to the north and utilizes a concrete slab foundation. The roof is flat/slightly sloping with a concrete parapet on the south, east, and west facades. Exterior walls are clad with a brown face brick. All exterior window openings, which are located on the south, north, and east facades, have been enclosed with concrete block. Access to the building’s interior space is through three overhead, rollup metal doors on its west façade. Electrical/utilities transformers enclosed by a chain-link metal fence are directly to the south of the building.

Erected ca. 1948, the greenhouse is a one-story, structure that sits within a complex of agricultural outbuildings east of the school building and connected auditorium. Walls are constructed of concrete perimeter beam that is topped with a wood and metal frame. This frame has been in filled with plastic/Plexiglas and corrugated fiberglass panels. A metal honeycombed mesh has been applied to the building’s interior walls. The front-gabled, metal-frame roof is covered with corrugated fiberglass panels. Ventilation is provided via roof and side wall windows that are manually opened and closed by a wheel and pulley system. The building’s primary entrance, which is located on its east façade, is a single, hinged wood slab door. The building’s interior space houses three rooms, each separated by a frame wall with plastic/Plexiglas panel inserts, a concrete base, and a single, hinged wood door with vision panels. Flooring throughout is decorative brick. The building’s southernmost room features a number of at-grade concrete planters. Metal piping, which was likely delivered steam heat to this building’s plants, is still extant in this room, The remaining two rooms features metal planters that are raised on concrete stands. A cold frame, a rectangular concrete below grade concrete planter, is located directly to the east of the greenhouse.

The potting shed was erected ca. 1949 and is located directly south of the greenhouse. The building is constructed of concrete masonry units, the foundation is a concrete slab, and it is topped with a flat/slightly sloping composite roof. Exterior walls are primarily clad with face brick, although six, sunken concrete bins line base of the east façade. Metal gutters and downspouts are located on the north and south facades. The building’s exterior doors have been removed and the openings, located on the east and west facades, enclosed with plywood panels. However, the singlelight transom over each door opening remains. Fenestration, which are also covered with plywood panels at the building’s exterior, are steel-sash fixed and awning windows with brick sills. Additionally, steel panels/plates with concrete lintels open into the east façade concrete potting bins. The building’s interior space includes one large open room, a small water closet to the north, and a small water closet and storage room to the south. Sunken, concrete bins line the west wall and are filled with dirt. Walls are painted concrete block, floors are concrete and ceramic glazed tile, and ceilings are painted concrete. Two blower heaters (both inoperable) are mounted to the ceiling. The building’s light fixtures (also inoperable) are ceiling-mounted, single-tube fluorescent fixtures.

The aquaculture building (aka agricultural unit) is located to the west of the school building/auditorium and directly south of the potting shed and greenhouse. The building is one story in height with a two-story wing. It is constructed of concrete tiles and has a flat, slightly-sloping roof with a concrete parapet. Exterior walls are clad with a brown exterior face brick, exterior doors are overhead metal roll up doors, and single metal doors, each with a three-light vision panel, and windows are metal-sash awning units. All exterior doors and windows are covered with plywood panels. Interior finishes include cement, asphalt tile, and ceramic, glazed tile flooring: painted concrete walls, and painted concrete ceilings. The building’s interior spaces were lit by ceiling-mounted florescent fixtures (inoperable). Additionally, a large non-historic metal tank used to grow fish is located in the open, southernmost room.

Erected ca. 1965, the three-story gymnasium annex is located to the southwest of the school/auditorium building. The concrete frame structure features an irregular plan and a flat roof. Exterior walls are brick and concrete. The building’s original plans note that the glazing was planned to minimize sun penetration in the northwest and southeast classroom. At the time the fieldwork was conducted for this project, this author was not able to gain entry to the building’s interior space. However, the original plans indicate that the interior space housed a large, open gymnasium, classrooms, lab spaces, locker rooms and showers, and girls and boys bathrooms.

Booker T. Washington High School New Orleans Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana (1942-2006)

booker-t-washington-high-school-new orleans
Booker T. Washington High School auditorium
Booker T Washington High School Auditorium


Booker T. Washington Lions 53 Yearbook
The Lion 1953
Booker T. Washington Lions 54 Yearbook
The Lion 1954
Booker T. Washington Lions 56 Yearbook
The Lion 1956

Orleans Parish High Schools