The orchestra played, the glee club sang and downtown businesses closed their doors for an hour so everyone could attend the long-awaited dedication of Norfolk’s new high school building.
Now, the public is invited to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of that building that has witnessed an evolution in education. The open house will be Saturday, June 17, from 2 to 4 p.m.
When the school — which is now the junior high school — opened its doors in February 1923, Norfolk’s population was around 8,200. Around 60 of them were members of the first class to graduate from the building that cost taxpayers approximately $500,000. That translates to 34 cents per cubic foot for the 1,276,000-cubic-foot structure.
That half-million-dollar price tag included the $32,000 required to furnish the building. Among the furnishings were 1,000 opera seats for the auditorium that cost $4.85 each.
J.C. Stitt, a noted Norfolk architect, designed the building, while Alex Beck of Omaha was the general contractor.
While the front of the building, which faces Pasewalk Avenue, has been little altered in the past 100 years, the building has been significantly enlarged to accommodate the growing student population as well as the ever-changing technological needs of a 21st century school.
Still, people who attend the open house will see familiar spaces, including the highly praised auditorium that is little changed from when the Rev. J.W. Andress spoke on the value of education during the dedication ceremony on Feb. 9, 1923.
"Our public school system is a democratic institution. Its support is democratic, it's privileges are equal for all. It is absolutely essential to the perpetuity of a government by the people that our boy and girls learn to think,” Andress said during his speech.
Visitors will have the chance to remember two of Norfolk High’s most famous students, the late Thurl Ravenscroft and the late Johnny Carson, said Candace Schmidt, Norfolk Public Schools’ director of communications. They can view the statue of Abraham Lincoln, visit the gymnasium that was the site of a basketball game between Norfolk High and the “Schuyler/Pierce aggregation” the afternoon of the dedication and see the bugle students played when the American flag was raised and lowered.
They also will have the opportunity to see the old lunch room, where, 100 years ago, students from the domestic science classes prepared and sold meals.
People attending the open house can participate in a guided tour, Schmidt said, or they can look on their own. Guests who have mobility issues can watch a virtual tour in one of the classrooms. Plus, Carson’s “Johnny Goes Home” also will be shown in the classroom where scenes for the show were filmed.
The building served as the high school until the late 1960s, when the “new” high school on Riverside Boulevard opened. At that time, the former high school was converted to the junior high school. Currently, hundreds of seventh and eighth grade students walk its halls.