Central Visual and Performing Arts High School

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Central Visual and Performing Arts High School
3125 S. Kingshighway
St. Louis, Missouri

United States
Type Magnet high school
Motto There Will Always Be a Central High[1]
Established February 7, 1853
School district St. Louis Public Schools
Superintendent Kelvin Adams
Principal Dr. Kacy Seals
Artistic Director Dwayne Buggs
Faculty 40
Grades 9–12
Enrollment 400 (2015-2016)
Campus type Urban
Color(s)              Gold, white, black
(formerly red and black)
Mascot Eagle (formerly Owl)
Newspaper None (formerly the Monthly Blossom, The Nut, The Reflector, and The High School News)[1]
Yearbook Famebook[2] (formerly The Red and Black)[3]
Information (314) 771–2772

Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (formerly Central High School) is a magnet high school in St. Louis, Missouri, part of the St. Louis Public Schools.

Founded in 1853, Central High School is the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi River, although it has moved several times and merged with a magnet school in 1984.[1][4][5] Central VPA specializes in the arts, with students taking courses in three art majors, including visual art, musical art, and performing art, with focuses on ceramics, drawing and painting, photography, instrumental music, vocal music, dance, and theater.[6]


Establishment and early moves: 1853–1893[edit]

The first purpose-built Central High School building opened in 1855.

In late 1852, the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools ordered the organization and opening of a high school to serve the city population.[7] The Board located the school within Benton School, a primary school then located on 6th Street between St. Charles and Locust streets, and on February 7, 1853, 70 students were admitted after an entrance examination.[7] Its first principal was Jeremiah D. Low.[7] Soon after its opening, the Board ordered construction on a dedicated building for the high school, then known simply as St. Louis High School.[8]

Designed by William Rumbold, the new building was built in 1855 at a cost of $50,000 at the corner of Olive and 15th streets.[8] The building had three full stories and a basement, nine classrooms, a 700-seat auditorium, and 16 smaller rooms used as libraries and wardrobes.[8] It initially was built with a capacity of slightly less than 500 students.[8] By 1859, course requirements for entrance had been developed, and two courses of study (general or classical) were available to students.[8]

The high school remained the only public high school in the community until the establishment of Sumner High School for black students in 1874. By the early 1890s, the Central High School building at 15th and Olive had deteriorated and become too small for the number of students attempting to enroll.

New building and the tornado: 1893–1927[edit]

The second Central High School
Demolition, after 1927 tornado damage.

The new Central High School building opened on September 1, 1893; designed by Furlong and Brown in the Victorian style, the facility cost $365,000, while land acquisition costs were $34,000. The building featured four stories, a curved facade, and a tower housing the school stairwells, and it had a capacity of 1,200 students.[9] A notable event in Central's history occurred when, in 1922, William J. S. Bryan retired after having taught for 50 years in the school.[10] During this period, several other high schools opened in St. Louis to alleviate overcrowding at Central, including McKinley High School and Yeatman High School in 1904, followed by Soldan High School in 1909, Cleveland High School in 1915, Roosevelt High School in 1925 and Beaumont High School in 1926.[11]

On September 27, 1927, a tornado struck St. Louis, including Central High School, killing 76 people and leaving 1,500 others injured in total.[12] The tornado killed five students—they are listed in the 1928 Central yearbook on a page with a touching poem--- and more than a dozen were injured when the school's tower collapsed.[13] The damage to the building was so great that the school was permanently relocated to nearby Yeatman High School, which was renamed Central High School.[9] The building, located on Garrison Avenue, had been designed by William B. Ittner as a three-story all-brick building with two towers at its entrance, and it would continue to house Central students through 2004.[9] It has long been forgotten that the Central student body and faculty had just returned to the Grand Avenue building FROM Yeatman High School, where the school had been housed two years while the Grand Avenue building underwent an extensive renovation and updating. School had just gotten underway back at the Central building when the tornado struck. Everyone and everything had to be moved back to Yeatman. It's also been long forgotten that one wall of the school eventually built on the Central site, the factory-like and uniquely conceived Hadley Vocational High School, was a wall preserved from the Central building.

Integration, magnet school status, and merger: 1927–1984[edit]

Central High School
Central High School, St. Louis, Missouri.jpg
Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is located in Missouri
Central Visual and Performing Arts High School
Location 3616 Garrison,
St. Louis, Missouri
Coordinates 38°39′35″N 90°12′55″W / 38.659648°N 90.215241°W / 38.659648; -90.215241Coordinates: 38°39′35″N 90°12′55″W / 38.659648°N 90.215241°W / 38.659648; -90.215241
Architect William B. Ittner
MPS St. Louis Public Schools of William B. Ittner MPS
NRHP reference # 12000873
Added to NRHP October 17, 2012
Central High School occupied the Yeatman High School building from 1927 to 2004.

Central students continued their traditions at their new building on Garrison Avenue, including the use of the letter "H" to signify the school's status as the first high school west of the Mississippi.[1] During the 1930s, enrollment in the St. Louis Public Schools increased and achieved a peak of 106,300 students; several high schools in the district reported overcrowding, and Central was no exception.[14] In the 1931–1932 school year, enrollment at Central stood at slightly more than 1,500 students.[15] Two years later, during the 1934–1935 school year, the enrollment at Central had grown to nearly 1,700 students.[16] It was during the early 1950s at Central that the school's baseball team won three consecutive state championships, led by Vern Bradburn as head coach.[1]

In January 1955, Central began accepting black students for the first time under a plan adopted the previous year by the Board of Education in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision.[17] Despite the Board of Education's claim that integration was accomplished smoothly district-wide, in December 1957 more than 50 white students stayed out of school in protest due to a dispute between a white and black student, leading to the dispatch of a dozen police officers to disperse the crowd.[18] According to the principal of Central, the two students had argued over ownership of a sweater, and the white student was assaulted.[18] Despite the protest outside, most of the school's 1,300 students remained in class; two students who refused police orders to disperse were arrested but later released.[18]

Despite de jure integration, the St. Louis Public Schools kept no official records on the race of students from 1954 to 1963 in an effort to maintain a "color blind" policy.[19] As part of this policy, the district took steps to ensure that black students remained in black schools or in self-contained classrooms and playgrounds at white schools, and throughout the 1960s, Central had a predominantly white population.[5][19] As white families moved out of Central's zone during the early 1970s, violence broke out between remaining white students and increasing numbers of black students.[5] In March 1979, Jesse Jackson visited the school to ameliorate tensions, and by 1980, the school's population was 95 percent black.[1][5]

During the 1970s, the St. Louis Public Schools implemented magnet schools; as part of this process, in 1976 the district opened Visual and Performing Arts High School (VPA) as a small learning community magnet school within the O'Fallon Technical High School building on McRee Avenue.[20] VPA moved to the Humboldt School building on 9th Street during the late 1970s, and in 1984, VPA moved again when it merged with Central High School; the combined school, Central VPA, continued to operate at Central's Garrison Avenue location.[20]

Recent history and moves: 1984–present[edit]

In early 1988, plans were announced to close the Central VPA building on Garrison Avenue for renovations and transfer its students to McKinley High School for one year.[21] About 800 Central VPA students joined approximately 120 McKinley mass media magnet school students at the McKinley building, while 330 non-magnet students at McKinley were transferred to other comprehensive schools in the district.[21][22] The renovations at Central VPA, planned to cost $6 million, were part of a $114 million district capital improvement plan.[21] Renovations to the Garrison Avenue building eventually exceeded $7.5 million, although they were completed in time for the 1989–1990 school year.[23][24]

Among the improvements to the school was a full renovation of the theater, which included removal of the structurally unsafe balcony, installation of acoustical panels, and construction of a light and sound booth in the rear of the auditorium.[24] In addition, the renovations included a new foyer for the theater, a new fire alarm and sprinkler system, new aluminum windows, a new art studio on the building roof, a library expansion, and updates to science laboratories.[24] After the renovations were completed, Central VPA students returned for the 1989–1990 school year.[25]

Upon the reopening of the Garrison Avenue building, the Anheuser-Busch company donated an aluminum statue of William Shakespeare to the school.[24] The school also won praise as an example of the success of the magnet school program by the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the desegregation case that created magnet schools in St. Louis:

For illustration, Central High School has been physically refurbished and is now meeting its needs as a performing arts high school. The leadership there is excellent; racial quotas have been met; enrollment is full.

Locations of Central High School
Year(s) Address Neighborhood
1853–1855 400 N. 6th Street Downtown
1855–1893 300 N. 15th St. Downtown West
1893–1927 1020 N. Grand Ave. JeffVanderLou
1927–1988 3616 Garrison Ave. JeffVanderLou
1988–1989 2156 Russell Blvd. McKinley Heights
1989–2004 3616 Garrison Ave. JeffVanderLou
2004–present 3125 S. Kingshighway Southwest Garden

Despite the renovations of 1988–1989, within a decade the school building again was in need of significant repairs.[27] During the late 1990s, several ceilings in the building had collapsed due to roof leaks, while the building suffered from a rodent and insect infestation.[27] By 2002, the building's roof leaked into the music wing and windows were stuck open in the auditorium leading to interior problems.[27] Supplies and money for extra rehearsals also were in short supply, and teachers complained that both the cafeteria and the theater seated only half of the 500 students at the school.[27] The principal of the school, John Niemeyer, noted that budget cuts and paperwork problems were to blame for many issues and argued that the building was not suited for a performing arts school.[27]

As a result of deteriorating conditions at Central VPA, the St. Louis Board of Education heard several proposals on moving Central VPA to another building.[28] Among the options considered at a meeting in November 2002 was to renovate the Kiel Opera House as an academic facility and performing arts venue; although the proposal to move to Kiel was not adopted, the Board committed to replacing the high school's building in the near term.[28] In the summer of 2004, the Board announced that Central VPA would move into the former Southwest High School building at the corner of Kingshighway and Arsenal.[20] As of January 2012, the Garrison Avenue building, home to Yeatman High School from 1904 to 1927 and to Central from 1927 to 2004, is for sale for $250,000.[29]

In December 2008 as part of a promotional tour, actor Will Smith visited students at Central VPA and viewed them conducting a dance routine to one of his songs.[30] As of the 2010–2011 school year, Central VPA began no longer offering programs in television or radio. In addition, Central discontinued its sports program in order to use the money to help fund the remaining arts programs.[citation needed]

On October 17, 2012, the Garrison Avenue building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[31]

Current status[edit]

As of the 2015–2016 school year, Central VPA operates on a 7:20 am to 2:27 pm schedule.[32]


For the 2011–2012 school year, the school offered only two activities approved by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA): band, orchestra and vocal music, and speech and debate; the school does not sponsor athletic teams.[33] In addition to its current activities, its students have won three state championships:

  • Baseball: 1950, 1951, 1952

The school also has produced four singles tennis state champions and three individual wrestling champions.[34]


Enrollment, racial demographics, and free or reduced price lunches[35]
Year Enrollment Black (%) White (%) Hispanic (%) Asian (%) Free/reduced lunch (%)
2011 552 72.4 21.8 3.3 2.5 83.5
2010 694 73.5 21.3 3.2 1.9 80.9
2009 781 71.7 24.2 2.0 1.8 63.2
2008 688 69.2 25.9 2.9 1.9 58.0
2007 623 69.3 27.1 2.6 0.6 69.3
2006 584 65.2 31.5 2.2 0.7 66.7
2005 541 65.1 32.5 1.8 0.4 61.6
2004 507 65.1 33.7 1.0 0.2 64.6
2003 493 65.9 33.3 0.6 0.2 63.8
2002 616 64.4 34.1 1.0 0.5 65.5

Academic and discipline issues[edit]

Central VPA has a higher graduation rate of 87.7 for 2010–2011, higher than the state average of 79.8.[35][36] Central VPA also has a discipline incident rate of 3.3 percent.[35][37] Since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, Central VPA met the requirements for adequate yearly progress (AYP) in communication arts in 2006 and 2011; it met AYP in mathematics in 2011.[35] In addition, more than 80 percent of Central VPA graduates enrolled in a public university in Missouri required remedial coursework in either English or mathematics.[38]

Graduation and dropout rates by year
Year Graduates Cohort dropouts‡ Graduation rate† Total dropouts‡ Dropout rate†
2011 164 23 87.7 34 6.8
2010 149 37 80.1 33 5.1
2009 122 46 72.6 32 4.3
2008 107 42 71.8 39 5.7
2007 110 29 79.1 24 3.7
2006 86 19 81.9 85 15.8
2005 118 13 90.1 34 6.3
2004 93 9 91.2 14 2.8
2003 97 25 79.5 5 1.0
2002 114 40 74.2 20 3.4
‡ Cohort dropouts is the number of students from the grade level graduating for that year who dropped out.
† Graduation rate is calculated as number of graduates divided by number of graduates plus dropouts, multiplied by 100.
‡ Total dropouts is the number of students at the school who dropped out of school during that school year.
† Dropout rate is calculated as number of total dropouts/(September enrollment plus transfers in and minus transfers out + September enrollment)/2).
Incident rates by year
Year Enrollment Incidents‡ Incident rate†
2011 522 17 3.3
2010 694 16 2.3
2009 782 71 9.1
2008 688 38 5.5
2007 623 0 0.0
2006 584 20 3.4
2005 541 14 2.6
2004 507 8 1.6
2003 493 2 0.4
2002 616 4 0.6
‡ Total incidents is the number of incidents in which as a result a student was removed for ten or more consecutive days from a traditional classroom.
† Incident rate is calculated as enrollment divided by total incidents.

Notable people[edit]



Other students[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dillon, Dan (2005). So, Where'd You Go to High School: The Baby Boomer Years. 2. St. Louis, Missouri: Virginia Publishing. pp. 24–26. ISBN 1-891442-33-3.
  2. ^ "Famebook". Central VPA High School. St. Louis Public Schools. Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  3. ^ "Help Yourself". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. October 16, 1990. Dollars and Sense, 6D.
  4. ^ Philip Dine (September 18, 1992). "St. Louis Ties Send Mantia To Washington". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Business 10D. Bernard's and Mantia's wives went to the same high school, the old Central High School on Natural Bridge — the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.
  5. ^ a b c d Jeannette Batz Cooperman (November 18, 2004). "'There Will Always Be a Central High School'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Get Out 18. It's endured six moves and a name change, but St. Louis' first public institution of "higher education" marks its 150th anniversary on Tuesday with a gala at UMSL.
  6. ^ "Student Handbook and Course Catalog" (PDF). Central VPA High School. St. Louis Public Schools. Retrieved January 13, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ a b c St. Louis Board of Education (1854). Annual Report of the St. Louis Public Schools. 1.
  8. ^ a b c d e St. Louis Board of Education (1859). Annual Report of the St. Louis Public Schools. 5.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bosenbecker, Ray (2004). So, Where'd You Go to High School?. 1. St. Louis, Missouri: Virginia Publishing. pp. 80–82. ISBN 978-1-891442-30-8.
  10. ^ C.O. Davis, ed. (1922). Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Meeting. North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. p. 154.
  11. ^ Bosenbecker, Ray (2004). So, Where'd You Go to High School?. 1. St. Louis, Missouri: Virginia Publishing. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-891442-30-8.
  12. ^ Mike Bauhof (October 2, 2007). "Living St. Louis Video — 1927 Tornado". Living St. Louis. KETC Public Television. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  13. ^ "St. Louis Tornado Dead Total 64, Injured 671". Associated Press. September 30, 1927. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  14. ^ Bosenbecker, Ray (2004). So, Where'd You Go to High School?. 1. St. Louis, Missouri: Virginia Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-891442-30-8.
  15. ^ Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Missouri Library Commission. Jefferson City, Missouri: Midland Printing Company. 1933. p. 14.
  16. ^ Twenty-ninth Annual Report of the Missouri Library Commission. Jefferson City, Missouri: Midland Printing Company. 1936. p. 25.
  17. ^ The St. Louis Story: the Integration of a Public School System. St. Louis, Missouri: St. Louis Public Schools. 1955.
  18. ^ a b c "50 Whites Stay Out of St. Louis School". New York Times. Associated Press. December 18, 1957.
  19. ^ a b Missouri Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (January 1981). School Desegregation in the St. Louis and Kansas City Areas (PDF) (Report). U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. p. 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-11.
  20. ^ a b c "History". Central VPA High School. St. Louis Public Schools. Archived from the original on June 4, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  21. ^ a b c Virginia Hick (May 7, 1988). "100 McKinley Students March against Transfer Plan". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. News 3A.
  22. ^ After the renovations were completed, the mass media magnet program was folded into the Central VPA magnet program, and McKinley became a magnet middle school. See Bosenbecker (2004), p. 101.
  23. ^ Tim Bryant (July 31, 1988). "Young Actor Had Pick of Scholarships". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. News 1D.
  24. ^ a b c d Virginia Hick (October 27, 1989). "The Bard, Recycled, Finds a Home". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  25. ^ "Magnet Schools are Focus of Fair at Union Station". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 3, 1989. News 4F.
  26. ^ Stephen N. Limbaugh (September 15, 1991). "State Won't Pay Desegregation Bills Forever". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 3C Commentary.
  27. ^ a b c d e Carolyn Bower (September 24, 2002). "Hitting a Low Note". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Metro B1.
  28. ^ a b Carolyn Bower (November 6, 2002). "Shuttered Kiel Should Give Rise to Arts School, Board Hears". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Metro B1.
  29. ^ Linda M. Walsh Real Estate, For Sale: St. Louis Public Schools "Central High School" (PDF), St. Louis, Missouri: Hilliker Corporation, retrieved January 14, 2012
  30. ^ Joe Williams (December 14, 2008). "Will Smith's Mission: Share the Happiness". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  31. ^ Weekly List Of Actions Taken On Properties: 10/15/12 through 10/19/12, National Park Service
  32. ^ "Notable Alumni". Central VPA High School. St. Louis Public Schools. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  33. ^ MSHSAA: Central Visual and Performing Arts High School
  34. ^ MSHSAA: Championship Histories by Sport
  35. ^ a b c d Missouri DESE: Statistics
  36. ^ Missouri DESE: State and District Graduation Rates Archived December 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ The discipline incident rate is calculated by the number of incidents resulting in a removal from school for ten or more days divided by the number of students in the school.
  38. ^ Missouri DESE: Remedial coursework
  39. ^ "Miss Helen A. Shafer Dying". New York Times. January 20, 1894.
  40. ^ Virginia Hick (July 11, 1990). "Interim Chancellor Long on History: Blanche Touhill is Living Resume for Job at UMSL". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  41. ^ a b c d e "Notable Alumni". Central VPA High School. St. Louis Public Schools. Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  42. ^ Kevin C. Johnson (January 24, 2010). "Dancer Takes Big Step from Muny to Broadway: Visual and Performing Arts Grad Discovered Herself through Dance". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A&E D2.
  43. ^ "Bonus Baby Hurls for the Colonels". Bridgeport Sunday Herald. United Press International. June 22, 1952.
  44. ^ "Freeman Bosley, Jr". Mayors of St. Louis. St. Louis Public Library. Archived from the original on January 6, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  45. ^ Debra D. Bass (August 15, 2009). "'Project Runway' Contestant Bounces Back". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  46. ^ Walter Barlow Stevens (1921). Centennial History of Missouri. St. Louis, Missouri: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 76.
  47. ^ "Fred Koenig, 61; Was Player, Manager, Coach with Cardinals". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 14, 1993. News 4C.
  48. ^ "Frederick Kreismann". Mayors of St. Louis. St. Louis Public Library. Archived from the original on December 18, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  49. ^ Consolidated Publishing Company (1921). Who's Who in the Nation's Capital. Washington, D.C.: Consolidating Publishing Co. p. 242.
  50. ^ Brennan, Charlie (2006). Here's Where: a Guide to Illustrious St. Louis. St. Louis, Missouri: Missouri Historical Society Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-883982-57-7.
  51. ^ Suzann Ledbetter (January 21, 1990). "The Greatest Thing Since... The Story of Sliced Bread and St. Louis". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  52. ^ Robert E. Bedingfield (August 15, 1954). "Along the Highways and Byways of Finance". New York Times. Business F3.

External links[edit]