Updated on 2017-03-16 19:34:00

Significant Architecture of Sidney Lanier High School by Minna Roth Hill


Gothic Revival type of architecture was later chosen, and Frederick Ausfeld was hired as the architect

Early Years

In 1923, the Montgomery Board of Education purchased twenty-four acres of land on South Court Street on the edge of town for the purpose of constructing a new high school. The Montgomery Advertiser stated that "The most comprehensive educational building program Montgomery has ever known was unfolded Wednesday by the City Board of Education in connection with its announcement of land purchased for the projected $500,000 high school."

Mr. L. C. Cardinal, head of the Montgomery Board of Education, said that the new high school would relieve conditions and provide better facilities for the students and teachers. Mr. Cardinal also said, "We are going to erect a building that will adequately meet the needs of the city and we are not going to stop short of our mark when we get under way."

When the school board's plan was made public, the type of architecture was undecided. As the planning stages began, different plans were drawn up, and one of these plans by architect Frederick Ausfeld was a three-story, box-type structure. An artist's rendition of this plan was pictured in the 1925 Oracle. In 1927, a dispute occurred as to the location of the new high school. Many preferred a location on Gilmer Avenue rather than the Court Street location, but the land had already been purchased, and the Court Street location was confirmed to be the site of the new Sidney Lanier High School. The Collegiate Gothic or Gothic Revival type of architecture was later chosen, and Frederick Ausfeld was hired as the architect for the school.

Frederick Ausfeld was born on September 8, 1860, in Rinken, Germany. He came to the United States, married Lena Seiz, and they became the parents of five children. An application dated November 30, 1915, and submitted by Mr. Ausfeld to the American Institute of Architects stated that at that time he had been in practice for twenty-eight years. His election into the American Institute of Architects was accepted and became effective on February 1, 1916. Mr. Ausfeld became one of the leading architects in his day, designing several outstanding buildings in Montgomery. Besides having designed Sidney Lanier High school, Mr. Ausfeld was the architect for the Bell Building, one of the city's first skyscrapers, that was designed and built between 1906 and 1910, and was located at 207 Montgomery Street. He also designed the Empire Theatre, which opened in 1919, and was considered to have been the first theater in the United States to have had air conditioning. And in 1927-1928, at the same time Sidney Lanier High School was in its planning and construction stages, Mr. Ausfeld designed the Jefferson Davis Hotel, located on the corner of Catoma and Montgomery Streets in downtown Montgomery. Mr. Ausfeld passed away in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 15, 1930, and is remembered as one of America's outstanding architects.

Algernon Blair

Algernon Blair won the construction contract for the new school. Mr. Blair was born on August 6, 1873, in Brooklyn, New York, to Alexander and Hannah Farnell Blair. He attended high school in Macon, Georgia, and became a contractor, moving his small business to Montgomery in the late 1890's. Mr. Blair married twice. His first wife was Caroline Livingston Singleton, who he married on June 13, 1898, in Georgia. He married his second wife, Adele Blue, on July 14, 1908, and they had three children. Mr. Blair built many buildings in Montgomery, including the Standard Club; the Schloss and Kahn building; Camp Sheridan; the old and the new Sidney Lanier High Schools; the Greystone Hotel; the Montgomery City Hall and Auditorium; the Church of the Ascension; the United States Veteran's Hospital; Bellingrath Hall at Huntingdon College; the United States Post Office and Court House; the First National Bank; Fort Dixie Graves Armory; and Building 800 at Maxwell Air Force Base, which is also known as Austin Hall or the Air University Headquarters Building. He also built many private homes in Montgomery including the Quisenberry house, the John T. Clarke residence, and his own home. Mr. Blair built other buildings and installations in many southern states. Among these were the Elmore County, Alabama Courthouse; the Orange Grove Housing Project and the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad Office Building, both of which are located in Mobile, Alabama; Smithfield Courts in Birmingham, Alabama; Buena Vista Hotel and the United States Veterans Hospital, which are both located in Biloxi, Mississippi; the Sidney M. Aronovitz United States Court House in Key West, Florida; the Taylor County Post Office, also known as the Perry Post Office, in Perry, Florida, as well as many other federal buildings, veteran hospitals, and approximately 200 post offices throughout the southern states. Mr. Blair also served as the Director of the First National Bank in Montgomery, and he was a member of "The Thirteen," a literary and philosophical society. Mr. Blair died in 1952, after fifty-five years in the construction business.

Construction

The contract price of the new Sidney Lanier High School building without equipment expenses was set at $775,000. Funds for the construction of the new school were raised under an act of the State Legislature by selling bonds. This was during a time of prosperity before the Depression began. Consultants were brought in from Columbia University in New York to ensure that the buildings met educational requirements. The concrete foundation was poured on South Court Street on August 8, 1928, and construction of the building began. The 1929 Oracle displayed two pictures of an artist's rendition of the completed Lanier, which was then under construction and which closely resembled the completed building, with an exception of a clock at the top of the main tower.

The school was planned and constructed with two structures, one being the main building, and the other being the gymnasium. The main building was to resemble two "Y's" connected at the base. The buildings were to occupy a total floor space of 172,000 square feet. The auditorium was planned to be the outstanding feature of the new building. The main building was constructed to rest on a stone and brick basement and as a three-story, red brick structure. The facade was divided by buttresses and decorated with stone shields, wise owls, open books, and lamps of knowledge. On the upper portion of the building over the first floor was a running grapevine, and the walls were two feet thick. Lanier was built with two towers: the tower on the north, which students affectionately have called the North Tower, and which was constructed in an octagonal shape with a stairway inside, and the main tower, which served as the main entrance.

Gothic Arch Entrance

The main entrance to the building was a Gothic shaped arch, and the entire interior displayed quality workmanship and exquisite detailing. The first floor of the main tower contained the foyer, which led directly into the auditorium, and on the left and right led to the broad hallways which split into wings of the north and south sides of the building. The two south wings ended in exit doors and stairways, as did the northeast wing, and the northwest wing led to the lunchroom. The library was built on the second floor directly above the foyer, and classrooms were constructed above it on the third floor. The room at the top of the main tower was used as classrooms and office space over the years. All of the second and third-floor rooms were classrooms, with the exception of the boys', girls', and teachers' restrooms. The basement of the building also was used for classrooms over the years.

Latest Innovations

The foyer's floors were made of maple wood placed over concrete with borders of faux marble, tile, and brass. The foyer was constructed with tile walls that were bordered with red molding and decorated shields. The plastered ceiling was decorated with leaves and strap work molding. The library was built with oak bookcases and a multicolored, coffered ceiling. It was decorated with egg-and-dart and acanthus moldings, with a rose in the middle of each of the ceiling's octagon-shaped medallions. The classrooms were built with high ceilings and large windows. The wooden and metal student desks, which had indentations to hold pens and inkwells, were connected in rows and were fastened to the floors. The ceiling in the auditorium was decorated with Gothic arches and corbels, and the stage, with its Gothic arch, was the widest in the city and included an orchestra pit.

Many innovations were incorporated into the plans for the new Lanier building. These included a centralized vacuum cleaning system, an electrical bell system, a draft system, which cooled the air through a system of ducts and exhaust hoods, and a refrigerated water cooling system. Even the toilets in the restrooms had special features which allowed them to flush themselves after pressure was removed from the seats.

Gymnasium

The second building that was constructed at Lanier was the gymnasium. The gym itself was on the second floor of the building, and the first floor was used as dressing rooms and for offices. During the years from 1961-1962, a new gymnasium was built, although the old gymnasium was still functioning. Opened in December of 1962, the new Gymnasium cost approximately $300,000.00. In 1966, the new gym was named the Walker Memorial Gymnasium in memory of Mr. Thaddeus Owens Walker, who had served on the Montgomery Board of Education.

The kitchen for the lunchroom was added on to the building, and at some point during the 1950's, another building was constructed at Lanier on the north side of the main building. This building served as the location of the Vocational Agriculture classes at Lanier. A Greenhouse was also constructed in conjunction with this program. In more recent years, after the Vocational Agriculture program was abolished, the building has been used as the band room, and the greenhouses have been removed.

Only Minor Changes

Sidney Lanier High School has undergone minor changes in recent years, although most of the features and physical beauty of the school remain the same as in earlier days. The molding in the foyer has been painted blue, some areas, including the library, have been painted gray, some classrooms have been partitioned in order to increase the number of classrooms, and fluorescent lights are now used in much of the building. The auditorium has been remodeled, but the metal Gothic ends of the rows of seats have been retained. The orchestra pit was covered over many years ago. The old rows of student desks in the classrooms have long been gone, and have been replaced with modern desks. The innovations that were implemented when the building was built no longer function, except for one lone commode, but modern replacements have been made in all of these areas, with the exception of the vacuum cleaning system. A new track around the football field has been laid in the past few years, and according to Mr. Tom Salter, Senior Communication Officer for the Montgomery Public Schools, the Montgomery Board of Education has plans to renovate Lanier in the near future.

The Montgomery Board of Education's website contains the following quote: "The Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-40, states that 'Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.' The Office of Communication should be contacted to gain access to or obtain copies of open public records and public information." The compiler of this paper requested architectural information about Sidney Lanier High School from the Montgomery Board of Education on September 16, 2013, To date, the Montgomery Board of Education has not sent any of the requested information to this compiler.

National Register

In 1984, Sidney Lanier High School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as a continuing resource to the Garden District in Montgomery, Alabama. These words, in reference to Sidney Lanier High School, are included on the Garden District nomination form:

"625. 1756 South Court Street, C. 1929, Late Gothic Revival, three story brick and ashlar school, large, central rectangular tower flanked on either side by three story, curved wings, flat crenelated rooflines."

As well as being significant for its history and for its people, Sidney Lanier High School is significant for its unusual Gothic Revival architecture and majestic presence in the city of Montgomery, the state of Alabama, and in America. It is this compiler's hope that the Board of the Alabama Historical Commission will accept the information in this paper and approve this nomination so that Sidney Lanier High School may be honored by being listed on the Alabama Historical Register.

"To follow time's dying melodies through and never to lose the old in the new." - Sidney Lanier, Symphony

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