Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 20, 2018

The WPA Goes to School: Redondo Union High School

Among the thousands of infrastructure projects built by the Depression era U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) — roads, bridges, dams, courthouses, libraries, culverts and even museums and theaters — was some uncounted number of school buildings. The Los Angeles area alone must have scores of them still standing. Late in the WPA’s run, 1939, it provided Redondo Union High School (RUHS) with two new buildings to accommodate a growing student body.

Redondo UHS science Brad Nixon 0555 640

Redondo UHS exterior Brad Nixon 0540 640

By any standard the new Science and Manual Arts buildings weren’t the most elaborate or impressive of the architecture designed for the WPA — rectangular cubes of poured concrete that show the horizontal lines of the concrete forms. One building did get a few fillips of decoration in the form of cast concrete friezes over the doors and windows.

Redondo UHS doorway Brad Nixon 0538 640

The buildings were designed by the Los Angeles firm of Allison & Allison, which is still in operation. Allison has a large portfolio of notable structures, including iconic Royce Hall at the University of Southern California and a more grandiose Art Deco predecessor of the RUHS buildings, the downtown headquarters of Southern California Edison (1931), which has been termed an “Art Deco masterpiece.” I’ve been unable to find an attribution for the design of the Redondo Union medallions, which are a combination of work-and-technology themes and perhaps acanthus and/or oak leaves.

Redondo UHS freize Brad Nixon 0542 640

The coloration is the result of a relatively recent restoration. I can’t say whether or not the colors of the restoration bear any resemblance to their original state. They’d been painted over with the same dull beige as the buildings for many decades. Click on an image to enlarge:

All those details on the building face in toward the campus. If you pass on the sidewalk, only one portal on the north side has a decorative frieze above the door. It depicts a subject perfectly consonant with the science and technology theme, especially considering that it was installed at the end of the 1930s, when aviation was the technology of the future.

Redondo UHS airplane Brad Nixon 0558 640

You might think it’s nothing more than a reflection of the era. But notice that the airplane is flying across water. As it happens, that’s not the Pacific Ocean, just half a mile to the west. It represents the Atlantic Ocean, and the image symbolizes a flight piloted by a man who attended Redondo Union, although only for one month. A dozen years before the building went up, in 1927, that former Redondo Sea Hawk flew his Spirit of St. Louis airplane nonstop, solo, across the Atlantic from New York to Paris, making Charles Lindbergh a name any school would gladly lay claim to and memorialize, however brief his stay.

Lindbergh’s accomplishment still stands as a significant one, although RUHS boasts some other famous alumni. For my generation, we might think of two closer contemporaries who may have walked the halls of those buildings and who did graduate from RUHS: Thomas and Richard Smothers, better known as Tom and Dick, the Smothers Brothers. I don’t think there are any depictions of a guitar and string bass to be found on more recent RUHS buildings, but I haven’t seen the entire campus.

Who’s your old school’s most famous former student? Maybe it’s you! Leave a comment.

Licensable, high resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. My thanks to the director of the RUHS Alumni House museum for generous assistance during my visit.


Responses

  1. The most extraordinary high school facade I have ever seen. Thanks for the tour.

    BYW, I have seen the original Spirit in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, as well as an exact replica in the San Diego Air Museum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In fact, so have I. I’d actually not thought about that. Thanks for the reminder.

      Like

  2. Interesting design features on this building. Yeah its amazing all the building that went on during the depression. High Schools, The Hover Dam, Parks, Gardens etc.

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  3. Editor’s Note: A comment from my high school and college classmate regarding alumni of our own high school in Ohio:

    Try Woody Harrelson for LHS. Also the sons of Neil Armstrong who attended LHS under assumed names to protect privacy.

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    • We all certainly think of Mr. Harrelson when fellow alumni come to mind! Thanks.

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  4. Those friezes are striking. Thanks to the school being devoted to science and manual arts, they have a bit of a steampunkish feel to them, which I like.

    The first two photos remind me of the Elgo plastic bricks I had as a kid. You could do a lot with them, and they were great fun.

    As for famous alumni of Newton (Iowa) Senior High, I’d have to tip my hat to Emerson Hough, for whom my grade school was named. He was in the school’s first graduating class of three, in 1875.

    If we consider infamous, I was on the debate team briefly with Charles Murray, who’s probably best known for that barn-burner of a read, The Bell Curve. No one on Twitter’s done better than Charles at producing an on-target bio. His reads: “Husband, father, social scientist, writer, Madisonian. Or, maybe, right-wing ideologue, pseudoscientist, evil. Opinions differ.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holy cow. I had to look up Hough before the name rang a bell. THAT Hough. I’ve come across him reading about Billy the Kid and the doings down in Lincoln, NM and thereabouts. An excellent alumnus to claim. I just checked, and my library has none of his books, but I’ll be on the lookout. And EVERYONE has a classmate they considered evil, but few live up to the epithet in adult life. My debate partners were all interesting cats, but none of them so noteworthy.
      Good ol’ Newton has a lot going for it. I did not know that’s the home of Maytag dairy products (plus the Maytag Corporation and all that). Sculpture Festival. Thanks very much.

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    • Oh, and those bricks. I didn’t know the brand name but, yep, I had something very similar, if not the brand itself. Our generation is pre-Lego.

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