Editor’s Note: Bossier High School is celebrates their 100th year in 2017! We asked local architecture enthusiast, Randall Ross, to share a little insight on the current school’s building, which was erected in 1938.
As part of his Eagle Scout Service Project, Zack Rathky once lobbied the National Register of Historic Places to add his alma mater, Bossier High School, to their official list “of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” What did the young Scout see in his High School, and why did he believe it deserved such prestigious attention?
Bossier High School (777 Bearkat Drive) opened in 1940 and is a remarkably well preserved example of the International Style of Architecture as practiced by the brothers Samuel G. and William B. Wiener, two Shreveport-based architects whose progressive designs embodied the spirit of 1930s Louisiana. Few examples of this building style have survived intact in the region, thus making Bossier High School a target destination for architecture fans, offering a Masters-level seminar in both the heroics and the subtleties of early American modern architecture.
In 1931 Louisiana, during the third year of Huey Long’s governance, Progress was more than the name of Long’s Democratic newspaper, it was the defining word of the era. That same year Samuel G. Wiener travelled to Europe to witness examples of the progressive and functional “New Architecture” and meet his European counterparts. Upon returning home, Wiener and his younger brother William B. Wiener — worked within the tenets of the new style, which was codified and christened “The International Style” in 1932 by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. This style of architecture began in Europe when architects viewed buildings as skeletons enclosed by a thin light skin, utilizing the latest building technologies to achieve maximum volume with minimum mass. In other words the form of a building should mirror its function.
In Louisiana the first building Samuel Wiener designed in the new, Functional Style was the El Karubah Club House on Cross Lake in 1931. Within a decade, the International Style had won such popular acceptance in the area that Bossier High School was designed and built in the purely functional manner without controversy. Wiener’s plan revolved around fulfilling teaching and administrative needs via five distinct but related units: a classroom building, a gymnasium, an auditorium, a cafeteria and a manual training shop.
The February 1941 Architectural Record featured the newly completed Bossier High School in a three-page photo essay. Reviewing this 76-year-old publication, one cannot help but note that time has been generous with Bossier High School—the buildings look exactly like they did when they were built. Isn’t that the purest definition of functionalism, and by extension the very essence of successful planning?
Bossier High School was one of the four public schools designed by Samuel Wiener in Northern Louisiana and funded by the Public Works Administration (PWA). As part of the New Deal of 1933, the PWA authorized and financed construction of over 1,700 Public Building projects between 1933 and 1939, including the United States Marine Hospital, the National Leprosarium in Carville, billed as “. . . the best equipped leper colony in the world,” and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport.
The ideology behind this massive building boom was simple: to better the living conditions of all Americans. To this end, communities across the Unites States were able to improve their infrastructure via new schools, courthouses, post offices, fire stations, hospitals, bridges, dams, trash incinerators and much more. The PWA helped fund 175 new public schools in Louisiana during the 1930s, ranging from single-room rural structures to full campuses in towns and cities throughout the state.
We are fortunate to be able to still enjoy some of the Public Works created from the chaos of the Great Depression, those living monuments to the spirit of working together for the betterment of all. Whether you’re studying Duncan Ferguson’s embedded topographical map at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, or waiting for the final bell at Bossier High School, please remember President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words from July 8, 1938: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”
Bossier High alum Zack Rathky understood that message. His Eagle Scout Service Project was successful and Bossier High School was officially listed as an historic site by the Department of the Interior on September 30, 2004.