Gresham High School
From 1939 to 1940 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) made improvements and built additions to Gresham High School in Gresham, Oregon, just east of Portland. The additions included a gym, an agricultural building, the north wing of the classrooms, and an auditorium. Michael Schaefer, Gresham High School Principal, estimates that, at the time, 80% of the school was rebuilt with funding provided by the WPA.
The primary architectural style of the high school is Art Deco. Teresa Carson of the local Gresham press tells us that
“The building originally had hand-crafted doors created by highly-regarded WPA blacksmith Orion B. Dawson, who also created gates at WPA-built Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and the Dads’ Gates at the University of Oregon.
Dawson’s ironworks on the doors of the school were originally located at the gym, the auditorium, and the main entrances of the high school. Carson notes that, for a time, the Dawson-designed doors that had been at the main entrance to Gresham High School were on display at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon. Principal Schaefer reports that a former employee of the high school stored the other two Dawson-designed doors when they were taken down. The School plans to buy back the doors and reinstall them during the upcoming school rebuild project.
There are also bas-relief sculptures above the entrance to the auditorium as well as above the gymnasium. The sculptures were made in 1940, and were probably part of the overall WPA rebuild project of 1939/40. Carson remarks that the bas-relief sculptures are “typical of many WPA facilities.” Such typical features, Carson explains, includes “flattened sculptures on the fronts of buildings characteristic of the Art Deco period.” The three bas-relief sculptures above the gymnasium depict students engaged in sports. The ones over the auditorium depict students engaged in the arts and humanities.
The Living New Deal needs further information in order to verify WPA FAP funding of the bas-relief sculptures and to identify the artist who made them. .
In November 2016 Gresham voters approved a bond to tear down the old Gresham High School buildings. There is currently fierce local debate over the wisdom and value of preserving “the 1940-vintage Main Avenue exterior of the high school” in the rebuild project.
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