100 Years of Excellence on the East Side of Salt Lake

| August 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Salt Lake City, Utah has a rich tradition of high school and community life. One of the best known schools in the city is also famous nationwide. East High School is in the middle of its centennial year, and the Leopards continue to build on a deep tradition of distinction.

Need for a New School
The Salt lake High School was established in 1890 in the downtown area of Salt Lake. At that time the population of the city was around 45,000. Over the next 20 years, the city’s population swelled to nearly 100,000. The decision was made to build an additional campus for the high school on the east side.

EHS Postcard
In 1912, the cornerstone was laid and within two years the magnificent new building was opened high on the hill at 1300 East and 800 South. At the time is was called the “most magnificent high school in America.” James Leslie Chesebro was its chief architect.

Amenities of the New Campus
The original building was equipped with a botanical conservatory, a hospital room, locker and rest room for the faculty, and even a subterranean a rifle range. The school opened its doors to students for the 1914 school year. Two floors of the four-story structure housed a junior high school.

Within a few years, enrollment was soon great enough to require that the junior high school be moved to a separate campus. Later, in 1952, a separate field house was added, along with industrial arts classroom space. Several other additions were completed: a science wing in 1964, a vocational arts building in 1971, a larger auditorium in 1975, and a state-of-the-art gym in 1980.

Fire and Rebirth
The building was nearly destroyed in 1972 as the results of arson’s fire. However, the brick and concrete shell remained intact, and the Board of Education elected to restore the school. Seismic safety concerns, however, eventually led to the destruction of the original building. In 1994 demolition work was begun to make way for a new edifice. The science wing, vocational education building, and the 1952 field house were razed and a new four-story classroom building erected in their places.

On May 22, 1996, back hoes began ripping down the masonry walls that had stood for over 80 years. By the spring of 1998, the new facilities had completely replaced the old, and were formally dedicated.

East High in the Spotlight
East High has been home to many influential Utahns: Scott Matheson, 12th governor of the state; Jake Garn, U.S. Senator; Russel M. Nelson, a Mormon apostle; comedian Roseanne Barr; Pulitzer Prize- winning author Wallace Stegner; and James Irwin, the eighth man to walk on the moon.

In 1996, East made national headlines over a controversy about gay student clubs. Aftera student founded the Gay-Straight Alliance, the school prohibited them from meeting officially. Battle lines were immediately drawn, and outside groups argued both sides of the issue. Proponents of the club cited a federal law preventing schools from discriminating against certain clubs.

The school reacted by banning all clubs not directly relating to the school curricula. Later that spring, the state legislature passed a bill prohibiting gay clubs in public schools. In 2000, the school board decided to let all non-curricular clubs meet on campus, extinguishing the national controversy.

More recently, East High School has been made famous nationwide by the Disney Channel’s High School Musical, which was filmed almost entirely at East. The setting was changed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the mascot to the Wildcat (East’s actual mascot is the Leopard). The school colors are red and white.

For decades, the “East Side School” served the upper and upper-middle class families of Salt Lake. In the past 25 years, however, demographics have changed in the city, and the district has realigned its high school boundaries to diversify the populations at all three schools.

East High School, though officially founded in 1912 didn’t meet in its iconic east-side schoolhouse until 100 years ago this September.  Over the last century, the school has seen immense changes in its facilities, student body, and community. The East Side High remains a visible landmark in the city and a recognizable feature of its culture and lifestyle.

Category: Columns

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