Central High School Alumni Association Collection
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Background:

The advent of a public high school was heralded as a major cultural achievement for young Oklahoma City in 1892. A couple of schools began in the city as early as June, 1889, but these were private schools operating by subscription as no legal authority (and thus funding mechanism) existed for public education at the time. The creation of Oklahoma Territory made public education possible in the new city.

The first high school began in 1892 in a rented store front at 319 West California where Mary D. Couch presided over the students. Available evidence is sketchy, but it seems that Ms. Couch was teaching advanced courses, but this early version may not have been quite a fully formed high school. At the time, students across the country generally attended school up to the eighth grade and high school was reserved for those learning skilled trades or as preparation for those going on to college. The city’s school population had increased to about 1200 students and officials believed a sufficient number of students could benefit from a high school.

That following year the federal government reverted ownership of Military Hill, the land east of the Santa Fe tracks which made up the military reservation, to the city with the stipulation that the land be designated for educational use. It was determined that a high school building should be built on this land when funds became available. Socialite Mrs. Selwyn Douglas (Julia) was selected to organize the high school when it could be built. But Mrs. Douglas, known for her boundless energy (she would later found the first public library), did not wait for a building. She immediately arranged for classes to begin in the former Army post’s barracks. Ethel McMillan, in History of the Public Library of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, writes,

“There was no building, but what was that to thwart one with the ability, courage, and authority to worthily direct the opportunities for youth teeming with life at high tide? So to the four-room log house recently used as a barracks on the Military Reservation, gathered these young people from the various sections of the nation with the background of characteristics of all these areas and could any young people have been more fortunate in leadership?”

By 1896 the high school building at NE 4 and Walnut was completed in fine Richardsonian style. This building would eventually be known as Irving School but to everyone in town it was “the high school.”
During the great population and building boom of 1909-1910, prolific local architect Solomon Layton designed a grand structure at 801 N Robinson at the southern end of “Church Row.” The new school was built in the Collegiate Gothic architectural style and provided excellent facilities for a complete high school education. Among these were an auditorium, a two-tiered gymnasium, a swimming pool, and specially equipped classrooms for courses such as home economics and shop. For its first sixteen years, the facility was known as Oklahoma High School, but after the construction of Classen High School (1919) and the proposed Capitol Hill High School (1928), the name was changed to Central High School in 1926.

The school reached its peak usage in the 1950s, but declines in enrollment caused by increased suburbanization sent the school into decline in the 1960s. Central High School essentially ceased to function as school in 1968 when it was reclassified as a junior high school. The building remained school board property until 1981 when it was sold to the Southwestern Bell Corporation which remade the now decrepit building into its Oklahoma headquarters.

Throughout its history Central produced dozens of successful graduates whose names adorn buildings and streets all around the city and a few corporate boardrooms and Hollywood marquees as well. Central’s alums were possessed of much loyalty and school spirit and ultimately formed the Central High School Alumni Association which cooperated with Southwestern Bell in creating a Central High School Museum in the remodeled building. Though no longer located in that building, the Association’s collection contains a trove of artifacts from the school’s traditions including the photographs they have shared with Retro Metro OKC.


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18 Comments

  1. There are a couple of sentences I would like to add to the last paragraph. In the mid-70s, a “Innovative” high school was there. My personal involvement was that my grandma (when it was Central HS), my future ex wife, and myself went to school there. It seemed like a bunch of “hippie kids” (long hair, rock n roll, etc.) went to school there. People played guitar on front steps, no bell, and the school was very open. Very cool school but there will be nothing like that now, different public views now.

    • Keith, you’re right. First of all I see I got in a rush and left an edit “hanging”. I meant to say “Central High School essentially ceased to function as A REGULAR HIGH school in 1968 when it was reclassified as a junior high school.” I knew about the alternative school, but was researching some information I had that it was sort of an early version of a charter school and was not a OKC Public Schools school. I will fix it soon!

    • Hippie kids???..I was in the first class of CIHS. I went to college and did very well. I Am just completeing my 26 years in the military. Hippie kids??? I am entering into a Masters program post military retirement. Hippie Kids??? It was a public school or I would not have gotten a diploma from there.

      • Hey Barry, Relax, I never said it wasn’t public and I don’t know when you were there. Congrats on education achievments. I too left there and got a BBA from OU. The thoughts I had are from “77-“80. I did not see the young republican, crew cut bunch when I was there. Probably having too much fun as a hippie kid…Rock on

      • Gregory Stampley

        I hope I have reached the correct Barry – this is Greg Stampley from MO. ANG. I have been trying to locate you off and on for a few years. My phone# is 202-290-9292. I would like to catch up, please give ma a call or drop me an email at scsm5116@yahoo.com.

        Greg

      • Hi Barry,
        i am researching an article on CHS and congratulate you on this cool site! How can i contact you? My email is jeanette-elliott@am.com and phone 405-843-7777. Thank you!

  2. Keith, thanks for sharing your memories. Retro Metro OKC is a site that is always subject to updates and input by visitors, so we really appreciate your response (we’ve set up this website so that additional information can be gleaned via the comments along with an image upload through the “about us” section)
    To quote Harry Truman, the only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.

  3. steve, trying to locate the video/vumore personnel files rose put together and are located somewhere in your website. Help! can’t find it! my family has 122 history in okc and 30 years with video. been following film row efforts with great interest. thanks

  4. Roger, sorry for the delay – they’re waiting for uploading. We have three people who can do the uploads, and Marc Weinmeister is assigned to the Film Row upload. He’s finishing the Bricktown collection this week (we’re working through some glitches on it now). With that done, his next one is Film Row.

    • Steve, can you share more info about your Film Row project. Sorry for being so out of touch – nose to the grind stone thing on my end. Email me if you can. THANKS!

  5. Bradley it’s the materials that I shared with you a few weeks ago. We’re trying to scan the book online.

  6. Does anyone know if the auditorium in CHS still exists? Would love a tour of that building.

  7. I went to Central Innovative High School.Class of 1979.It was part of the OKC school system. Robert(Bob)Alyea was the Director.We had the best teachers, small class sizes,collage level courses. I loved learning there. It was what could be called a hippie school,as we did not have a football team and did not want one.We did have the best ultimate disk team ever.

  8. I am not from Oklahoma; however, at my recent first sighting of the building that was once Central High School I was intrigued. What must be of special pride to some, although they have perhaps since left this life, is a small cubic stone marker on the southeast corner of the property. Not taking written note of its inscription, I cannot write what it commemorates. With failing memory, I believe it commemorates a graduating class of students of a given year, some time ago indeed. Anyone fortunate enough to have schooled there and alive to remember their days in and around that building are fortunate to have been a part of something great. The building is magnificent and bespeaks of the grandeur of the American ideal. That at one time it would have been a “hippie” “hangout”, was not nearly everything in our country infused with some measure of the counter-culture of that era? The Vietnam War was painful for most everyone. Most everyone alive was a part of the ever-present angst at the time. Most everyone grew because of it, and grew out of it; but no one avoided it altogether. In retrospect, there is no argument about it; it simply was.

  9. Jeffrey Sherwood

    I went to Central Innovative high school in 1976 from Northwest Classen High school and I always wondered how I was selected Central Innovative High School by doing some research I find I was selected from a lottery Wow now about the school I was a hippie and fit right in did not learn much though you could smoke and drink pop in class classes were 15 minutes long and then I was supposed to study from there but it was way to easy to go to the third floor and get stoned and then I would completely forget to study it was a BAD mix but I lived through it and doing very well and happy I lived through it because I was a Hippie Kid

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  11. 7-11-2017

    when central high school, became
    central junior high school
    in 1967-1968 school year
    was there any school yearbook
    maked for central junior high school?
    & if yes, where can i purchase one.
    and how many years was
    central junior high school around?

    sincerely
    calvin smith

  12. 7-11-2017

    question
    when central high school, became
    central junior high school
    in 1967-1968 school year
    was there any school yearbook
    maked for central junior high school?
    & if yes, where can i purchase one.
    and how many years was
    central junior high school around?

    sincerely
    calvin smith

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