Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tulsa Central High School, 1917

Tulsa High School, 1906, Fourth and Boston

The original Tulsa High School was erected in 1906 at Fourth and Boston in downtown Tulsa. In 1913 it became the third school in the state to win accreditation.

Tulsa Central High School, 1917, Sixth and Cincinnati

A new building opened in 1917 at the corner of Sixth and Cincinnati, and was enlarged in 1922. The Manual Arts building at Ninth and Cincinnati was added in 1925. Tulsa Central was at one time said to be the second largest high school in the country, and included indoor Olympic-size and lap pools, an indoor track, an extensive art collection, and a large pipe organ.

Central was Tulsa's only public high school for white students, and by 1938 it had grown to its peak enrollment of more than 5,000 students in grades 10-12. Finally, in 1939, Tulsa opened two new high schools: Webster High School in West Tulsa, and Will Rogers High School east of downtown. Booker T. Washington High School was established for African American students in 1913. Tulsa's schools were legally racially segregated by race until 1955, and remained segregated de facto at least into the 1970s, due to population patterns and school policies.

The construction of Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop freeway impaired the school's access to the outdoor physical education facilities at Central Park and Tracy Park. The cost of downtown parking was also a problem. These factors led to the decision to move the school out of downtown. The new 47 acre campus was opened in 1976, at 31st West Avenue and Edison Street, in the portion of northwest Tulsa that is located in Osage County.

The old Central High School building at Sixth and Cincinnati was acquired by Public Service Company of Oklahoma ("PSO"). After a complete renovation and extensive interior modifications, it now serves as PSO's headquarters. The renovated and adapted building has been named a Tulsa landmark by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. The former Manual Arts Building at Ninth and Cincinnati is now part of the downtown campus of Tulsa Community College.

When I compared my photo of the main entrance with the old night view above it I noticed that the front doors have been lowered and the double set of steps eliminated. The old school was not handicap accessible, the remodeled PSO building is.

On a personal note, I did my practice teaching at Tulsa Central High School during the fall semester of 1963 under veteran Math teacher Jack Skelton. When I heard that Central was to be closed I was afraid it would end up demolished and used for a parking lot. Like a lot of Tulsans I was very pleased when PSO did such a fine job of renovating it into office space. I have always wondered what happened to the swimming pool. I guess I should ask.

(Text excerpted from Wikipedia. Black and white photos courtesy of Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society. Exact dates are uncertain. A more complete history of Tulsa Central High School can be found HERE.)


  1. I love this sort of stuff. I liked how you showed current and older photographs. PSO did the community a service by rehabbing the old building.

  2. This is great! Thanks for posting, I really appreciate things like this. I'm not the only one who cares about what happens to old schools - yay! Also love the old photographs. Thanks again!

  3. Very cool. My grandmother, at least one great uncle and a cousin went there in the 20s. I have grandmothers high school diploma.

  4. Oh I have her graduation photo too!

  5. I'm looking for 1968 photos of Osage Elementary before it was closed for a new freeway. Can anyone help?

    1. I am looking for the same photos! Have not been successful or I'd share.

  6. My father, brother, sister & I ALL attended the downtown location of Tulsa Central HS; it was the BEST! I graduated in 1971 and the building was aging drasticly. I am forever gratefull tht PSO purchased our loving school & renovated it! It is INDEED a Tulsa Landmark!!! Rhonda Packer

  7. The pool is office space, meeting rooms and a server vault! The pool houses Volunteer Tulsa, a not for profit organization that PSO donates the space to.

  8. I would like to extend my gratitude to thank the PSO for keeping the oldest school in Tulsa. It is a very pride that you keep it the same as it is and just making the renovation for the good look after all. I love this article keep me so proud.

  9. Loved my JR & senior years at Central. A great experience. Had 980 in my graduating class. Played BB for Eddie Sutton. It was his first two years in a long and storied coaching career.

  10. Class of 1970. Always wondered what happened to the Great Spirit Statue.