What's left when a school moves out lock, stock and students?
How about the echoes of several decades of school musicals, the titles carefully painted on the wall of the converted basement room where scenery for those plays took shape? And a stack of yearbooks 57 years high whose smiling faces dim with each passing year. A heap of initial-scarred desks, also relegated to the basement. A collection of tarnished trophies of long-gone triumphs that live only in the memories of their heros.They're all there at South High School, along with a thousand other bits of memorabilia that have more or less special meaning to the 30,000 students who passed through the school in its 57 years.
The school has, in very fact, gone full circle.
On Sept. 10, 1931, Dr. Devoe Woolf, South's first principal, gathered in students who had attended, West, East and LDS high schools and began to weld them into a cohesive student body in a new school.
At the end of classes this year, South will close, its last class of graduating seniors marking the end of a historic era. Its juniors and sophomores look forward to a division that will take them back to East and West and also to Highland, a school that didn't even exist when South opened.
South was born during a turbulent and troublesome time in American history. Its coming was delayed for a couple of years by the Great Depression. The Salt Lake school board shelved its plans to wait for better economic times. At the same time, the old LDS High School announced it would close at the end of the school year in 1931 and the need to absorb 1,000 additional students forced the board to revive its plans and begin construction.
While the depression had delayed the building, its actuality also helped ease the problems of the depression as hundreds of workers took up jobs on the project. The school was built on what had been the original Pioneer Nursery. Choice shrubs and trees - with the exception of the two stately elms that still shade the school's front - made way for South High.
The district spent $1.5 million on the structure - enough to purchase more than 1,000 railroad cars of materials, plus pay workmen. The building is among the most handsome of its kind in Utah, South High afficionados believe. Tile and brick work, oak framing, a marble entry and arched doorways sporting clusters of fruit were touches of the era that don't show up in modern schools.
Each decade had its challenges and triumphs, including:
1931-41 - A new school provided an opportunity to build new traditions, break from old customs. Every girl at South became a member of South High Athletic Girls and every boy a member of South Associated Men. Students were given chances to participate in a number of ways, including the Girls' Masquerade, Mis Fit Day, the Dirty Chords and Loud Blouse contest, beard-growing contests and hairdo competitions. The school newspaper, The Scribe, was born and the yearbook named The Southerner based on just three contest entries. Three weeks after it was organized, the South High Marching Band played at its own dedication.
1941-51 - With World War II in full array, South High students danced cheek-to-cheek to the Big Band music and hoped for the safety of classmates and teachers who had joined the military. Students and faculty bought $46,263 in defense bonds and stamps, surpassing all other Utah high schools. Girls wrote letters, made shaving kits and collected hangers, and some male students worked at Tooele Army Depot to further the war effort. ROTC had increased enrollment. In 1945, the first female cheerleaders did their thing in behalf of South teams. In 1943, the Cubs won the state baseball championship. In 1948, Woolf, the first principal died. Dr. Ralph Backman took his place.
1951-61 - Postwar enthusiasm hit South High with a bang. The school had the largest student body in the state, operated its own fund-raising campaign, won regional and state football championships and adopted its own flag. The school constitution was rewritten with emphasis on high standards of character and ambition for higher attainments scholastically. The effort that had supported the U.S. military was channeled into community projects such as toy collections for needy children. ROTC emphasis shifted to martial arts, drill marching, first aid and rifle skills. Some ROTC graduates went from school to Korea, where another conflict raged. South contingents won honors in acting, athletics and school publications.
1961-71 - A national concern for the future and renewed emphasis on education emerged with the Space Age. The social unrest of the decade, manifest in the hippie movement and campus turbulence, essentially passed South by, but clothing and hair styles changed with the times. The school supported many social activities, including St. Christian Mission in southern Utah. The Black Identity and Chicano Pride clubs evidenced changing patterns in Salt Lake's demographics. Foreign Language Week bettered student awareness of ethnic and cultural diversity. The homemaking department opened the Dew Drop Inn to provide practical experience for those in vocational foods classes. A new library and north wing added to the physical plant. In 1969, Douglas Williams became principal.
1971-81 - For girls, it was short skirts and platform shoes, while long hair and bushy sideburns were the male standard. Watergate was causing national introspection and students looked at their own values. They shocked some parents with production of a controversial play about a young woman with a split personality. A peer counseling class delved into student problems and issues. In 1973, the Bear Cub, the school mascot was introduced. Pride Week was instituted to give students an outlet for expressing school spirit. South artisans took first place in pottery making. In 1978, a group of students designed a school seal. English as a second language was added to the course offerings to accommodate many students of foreign origin. Equality was an issue as girls pressed for better representation in sports. Dr. Lavar Sorensen became principal in 1975, succeeding Dr. Douglas Williams.
1981-88 - South observed its 50th anniversary with more than 5,000 alumni and others returning to wish the school well and look forward to another half-century. Gold was the theme for the observance and a graduation speaker that year, Joey Post, hoped that the spirit would "continue for many years to come. In 1983-84, South reached an academic apex with its designation of an exemplary school for the country. A Minority Affairs Committee dealt with a proliferation of events and associations geared to special groups, and a cultural assembly in the spring allowed these groups to share the beauties of their cultures. The football team went to state four times and won top spot in 1986-87. Competitors in other sports also excelled. On Feb. 3, 1987, the district school board announced closure of South, an event that sent shock waves through the community but did nothing to diminish the luster of 50-plus years for the school.
What next for South High?
When students depart South High School next week, the building still will remain. Its future is not clear. Salt Lake Community College would like the property to expand its programs. The state would like to grant the community college its wish and purchase the school building and grounds. However, Salt Lake School District has not been willing, to date, to accede to the state's proposed $1 million purchase price. The district had felt $5 million to be a more fair asking price but has no other takers in view. An arbitrator has suggested the district sell for $1 million. A decision is expected soon.