Central High School
Preservation & Adaptive Reuse
Central High School
Built in 1927, the four-story Little Rock Central High School was hailed as the most expensive, most beautiful, and largest high school in the nation. Yet in 1957 the school became the battleground of a national civil rights debate when nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering the desegregation of public schools. Due to the significant role they played in this tumultuous era, the school and surrounding properties were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 19, 1977, and designated a National Historic Landmark on May 20, 1982.
In addition to being a National Landmark, Central High is still an operating high school. As part of an effort to preserve the historic and architectural integrity of Central High, BVH Architects was brought on to prepare a Historic Structure Report in order to document the historic significance, existing conditions, and recommended treatment approach for the primary buildings on the site which include the school, field house and stadium, and the nearby Magnolia Mobil Gas Station.
Several repair campaigns throughout the school’s history have assuaged the weathering and aging of this historic building. However, a thorough study of the site as a whole was needed to identify areas of immediate need, and to create a plan for long term preservation and future use. Examination of the school’s existing condition found several trouble areas, including cracked, eroded and stained brick and mortar; corrosion of original and non-original attachments; damaged or failing window and door units; water damage to much of the original exterior wood installations; inadequate water drainage from roofs; extensive damage to ceiling tiles, concrete and reinforcing steel due to water infiltration; and exposure of the building’s subsurface waterproofing system due to settlement of surrounding soil.
Examinations of the accompanying buildings, including the Tiger Field house and Quigley Stadium, were made. While the condition of these structures was considered to be in relatively better condition, the need remained for rehabilitation for their intended purposes while retaining their architectural character.
Recommendations for preserving both the architectural and historic integrity of Little Rock Central High School were submitted in 2010. Along with suggesting measures for repairing the existing buildings, the preservation team developed a series of solutions which would allow the school grounds to grow and adapt with future use while still retaining the architectural integrity relating to this significant period in history.