Seattle Public Schools, 1862-2000: Franklin High School

  • Posted 11/20/2013
  • Essay 10508
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This People's History of Franklin High School is taken from Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 by Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr. That book, published in 2002 by Seattle Public Schools, compiled profiles of all the public school buildings that had been used by the school district since its formation around 1862. The profiles from the book are being made available as People's Histories on courtesy of Seattle Public Schools. It should be noted that these essays are from 2000. Some of the buildings profiled are historic, some of recent vintage, and many no longer exist (new names and buildings not included in these profiles from 2000 have been added), but each plays or has played an important role in the education of Seattle's youth.

Franklin High School

When Seattle High School opened at Broadway and Pine Streets in 1902, everyone thought it would be large enough to meet the city's needs for years to come. By 1905, however, the city's only high school was so crowded that overflow classes were held in the newly built Summit. The following year, Franklin School (see Washington) opened. In addition to housing students in grades 1-8, it housed 9th and 10th graders from Seattle High School in a program called the High School Annex.

From 1909-12, Franklin operated solely as Franklin High School, opening with 478 students and 19 teachers. Joseph A. Reed served as principal until 1932. School spirit took off quickly with sports, drama, and boys' and girls' clubs. In October 1909, the first issue of a monthly newspaper, Tolo, appeared, the name apparently deriving from the Indian word for "to win."

In 1910, the school board designated property in the developing neighborhood of Mt. Baker as the permanent location of the high school. The site was on the crest of a hill overlooking Rainier Valley. The streets in the surrounding residential community curved and house lots followed the natural topography of the area, with vistas of Lake Washington to the east. Both Mt. Baker Park and Rainier Valley streetcar lines served the community. Two additional lots to the west of the site were purchased to prevent other buildings from obstructing the view over the valley. The city vacated a street in front of the building, and it was terraced and planted with grass and shrubs.

The architect intended to make Franklin "as complete and modern as possible." With 42 classrooms, two gymnasiums, a lunchroom on the third floor (so cooking odors would not distract the students), and a detached manual training room (to reduce noise and vibration from machinery), the school fulfilled his prediction. It also featured a model apartment for use by home economics classes. The school was designed as a grand structure in a Neoclassical style reminiscent of a Renaissance palace. Some considered it the most beautiful school in the Northwest, and a model with photographs was later displayed at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Community residents wanted the new building to be named Mount Baker High School, but the opinion of teachers and students prevailed, and the name Franklin High School was maintained and engraved in the white marble above the classic Ionic columns. Activities popular during the first three decades of the school's history included chorus, which began in 1913 and later performed operettas with the school orchestra, a drama club, and publications. The annual began in 1914.

Royal Brougham, who began his career as a sportswriter for the school paper, suggested the Quakers as the school nickname in 1920. As time passed, the green and black Quakers were a force to be reckoned with on the sports scene. Early traditions developed and persisted, such as White Clothes Day (when all students dressed in white), the Ben Franklin Assembly celebrating the birthday of the school's namesake, and an annual kite-flying contest.

Enrollment increased dramatically and, by 1920, the building had exceeded its capacity, housing 1,450 students. With the opening of Garfield High School in 1923, crowded conditions eased, but not for long. In 1925, the district acquired property to the east and a new wing was constructed, adding a large band room, two art rooms, domestic science and mechanical drawing rooms, and 10 other classrooms. At this time, the library moved into larger quarters, and its old space became a typing room. A large portable, located to the north of the new wing and called Study B, served various purposes from 1925 to 1955. During World War II, the U.S. Army used school's facilities for training an anti-aircraft division. Meanwhile, Franklin boys participated in commando training. After the war, a bronze plaque and a memorial tree were placed on the grounds to commemorate the 99 Franklin students who lost their lives in the war.

From 1948 until 1952, 8th graders from various overcrowded schools attended Franklin, but this practice ended with the opening of Sharples Junior High School in 1952.

In 1955, Franklin became the first school in the state to receive the Bellamy Flag Award, in recognition of the "democratic philosophy and outstanding achievements of the school." Principal Walt Reseburg, who started as a teacher and coach in Franklin's inaugural year, retired in 1958.

With Franklin's enrollment nearing 2,000 in 1958, the district authorized a major remodeling project. A west wing was built in front of the elegant facade, obscuring the arched windows. This wing contained girls' physical education facilities, music rooms, and a large study hall. A new detached boys' gymnasium was built on the southeast corner of the playfield across the street. A large wood shop was constructed to the north of the east wing. A decade later, in 1967, a report recommended that the study hall be converted into an improved instructional materials center.

During the 1960s, Franklin felt the impact of social changes taking place throughout the city, particularly in the central and southeastern districts. Population shifts and racial tensions affected the school and, in spring 1968, growing pressures erupted in confrontation. The following fall staff turnover was heavy, and a new principal and vice-principal were appointed.

By 1972, Franklin's student body was very ethnically diverse, with 30 percent African Americans, 30 percent Asian Americans, and 40 percent whites. The staff also had become more representative of the many cultural groups that comprised the Franklin community. Curricular offerings included multiethnic programs and special classes for the foreign-born.

Fall 1981 saw a bulging enrollment of 1,850 students following the closure of Queen Anne High School, as Franklin became the high school destination for students from McClure and Blaine.

In 1982, an engineering study warned that the aging Franklin building was vulnerable to earthquake damage. Faced with rising repair costs, the school board voted in September 1986 to demolish the 75-year-old structure. Protests arose from students, alumni, and neighborhood residents. One student said she feared it would be replaced by a "faceless contemporary complex." Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board designated Franklin as an official landmark and then denied the district's request to tear it down. Earlier estimates for the costs of renovation had been far above the amount budgeted in the capital improvement program, but adjustments were made by the architects, and these reduced expensive structural alterations.

The resulting project removed the 1958 addition and turned the space directly behind the grand windows into a student commons. An addition was located in the middle of the U-shaped plan, and a new wall on the east side encompassed a new auditorium and classrooms. In September 1990, Franklin's students returned from their interim site at Sharples to find that, once again, their school was a contender for "the most beautiful in the Northwest."

A set of five artworks, created by local artists and illustrating the school's history, was dedicated in January 1991. One creation, entitled "A Stitch in Time" by Jim Pridgeon, consists of old band instruments, team uniforms, and other objects from the past placed in the attic cupola and viewed through a twin periscope in the commons.


Name: Franklin High School
Location: 3013 S Mt. Baker Boulevard
Building: 42-room reinforced concrete
Architect: Edgar Blair
Site: 2.2 acres
1911: Named on June 16
1912: Opened in September
1916: 4.13-acre playfield added
1925: Site expanded to 10.6 acres; addition (Floyd A. Naramore)
1942: Site expanded to 12.7 acres
1958: Addition (John W. Maloney)
1986: Designated as a City of Seattle landmark
1988-90: Closed for renovation
ca. 1989: Demolition of 1958 addition
1990: Renovation (Bassetti Norton Metler Rekevics)\

Franklin High School In 2000
Enrollment: 1,628
Address: 3013 S Mt Baker Boulevard
Nickname: Quakers
Configuration: 9-12
Colors: Green and black
Newspaper: Tolo
Annual: Tolo


 Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building for Learning: Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002).

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