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Sarasota High School

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Fran Lingo, Christine Stillings, Blake & Brent Wiley
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Sarasota High School photo

In writing the history of Sarasota High School it would seem logical to start with the founding date, but the founding date of SHS is not completely clear, and in this case it seems wiser to begin by discussing the early schools of Sarasota.

Sarasota's first school, built around 1878, was located on the south side of Main Street about 100 feet east of Pineapple Avenue next door to where the Kress Building stands today. The school, a small one room building 16 feet wide and 25 feet long and decorated with a gable at each end, had no stove. Children sat on homemade benches, and desks were quite different from those in present times.

In 1899 a two-room school was built on Eight Street between the railroad and Central Avenue (what was then Eight Street is now Second Street). By the winter of 1903-1904 the school was badly overcrowded. A new building was constructed for $3,900 during the summer of 1904. Sources are conflicting as to the location of the building. One source says the school was located on Main Street east of Pine. Another source says the school was erected on Golf Street on the future site of Central School in 1936, where the downtown U.S. Post Office was later located.

The two-story building contained four classrooms on the first floor and one classroom and an un-ceilinged auditorium on the second. The school opened September 19, 1904 with an enrollment of 124 students.

During the spring and summer of 1913 a new brick building was built at a total cost of $23,000. School trustees predicted that the building's 11 recitation rooms and its auditorium would fulfill Sarasota's needs for at least ten years. The old frame building constructed in 1904 was sold and moved off the lot.

When classes opened September 15, 1913, 200 girls and 153 boys were enrolled. The following fall it was decided to add two more grades and make the school a full-fledged high school as well as an elementary school. (It seems that this is when Sarasota High School actually began.) The old frame building which the new brick building had replaced was brought back and put to use. Located in back of the new brick building, it housed the younger children. Professor T.W. Yarbrough was the principal of the high school, a position he held for many years.

By 1927 Sarasota was once again in need of a new school building. School began on Tuesday, September 6, 1927, in a huge new building, which is now referred to as "the old building". Several available figures conflict as to the cost of the building. Prices range from $317,000 to $345,000 to half a million dollars. The School Board owned the land from Wood Street all the way to Bahia Vista, and sold the then-future sites of Howard Johnson's and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune to cover the costs of the new school. Shortly after the school's opening, an article in the September 17, 1927, edition of the Sarasota Herald (as it was called then) proclaimed that, "The high school building recently opened in Sarasota Heights is recognized as one of the most modern and up-to-date in the entire South." Some of the unique features of the school were the individual steel lockers set into the walls and the clock system. Each room had its own clock, which was regulated with the main clock in the principal's office, from where the bell for classes was to be rung. The building was equipped to meet the needs of 1,000 students. There were laboratories for physics, chemistry, natural sciences, mechanical drawing, and domestic science. The domestic science (or home economics as it is now called) had complete kitchenettes with stoves and other machines.

The business department boasted "eighteen shiny new typewriters". Rooms were set up with pianos for those students who wished to study music, which was offered in the curriculum for the first time with the opening of the Old Building. Art classes were taught on the third floor for many years.

Barracks were set back about 30 feet from the building. One of these buildings was the cafeteria, and the other the vocational shop.

Editors note: In 1960 the "New Building" was added and it exemplified the Sarasota School of Architecture in reflecting it's openness to the outdoors. Since then other buildings have been added and the "Old Building" has been deteriorating. There was much controversy as to either demolish it or save it and re-purpose it. Luckily, the later was decided, and it will become an art museum.

Sarasota High School retains a great deal of history and fond memories for our community, as any high school does, in any town or city. In future articles we will expand upon these stories, and encourage readers to share theirs. Go Sailors!