John R. Rogers High School is eligible for NRHP placement as an outstanding example of the Art Deco style in Spokane, as applied to public structures. Although the interior has been significantly renovated, the exterior of the original building largely retains the same appearance as when it was first constructed in 1932.
The predecessor of John R. Rogers High School was Hillyard High School, which served a separate community that grew up around James Hill’s Great Northern Railroad Company yards, northeast of Spokane. Hillyard HS was a crowded space in the late 1920s and the need to build a larger, more modern school was apparent to the district and surrounding community.
The new school was financed through a $400,000 bond measure. While few questioned the need for a new school, having such a large bond measure approved shortly after the 1929 stock market crash was nothing short of a miracle. On April 10, 1930, the Spokane School Board awarded the plan and design contract for the new school to the architectural firm of Wells & Dow. The project was a one-time limited partnership for William A. Wells and John K. Dow, two well established and respected local architects.
Little is known about William A. Wells who practiced architecture in Spokane from about 1908 to the 1930s. Based on his known work, Wells appears to have teamed up with a variety of architects on different projects and may have had a specialty in school designs. Wells’ one-time partner John K. Dow is more well known. Several buildings designed by Dow are on the National Register.
The general construction contract for the school was awarded to J.J. Lohrenz. There were some delays, mostly associated with a unique stipulation in the contract that all construction materials and labor must be of local origin. The intention was to give employment to local workers, who were unemployed due to the depression. The building was ready for occupancy after a short nine-month construction period. The formal dedication of Rogers occurred on March 1, 1932.
Several innovative features were incorporated into the building’s design, including Spokane’s first building-wide public address system (controlled from the principle’s office), the Pacific Northwest’s first 8-circuit electric signal clock which rang class bells automatically, Spokane’s first built-in-the-wall student lockers, modern acoustical ceilings, and a new type of ventilating system, called the Ner-Nelco system, which reduced fuel bills by never admitting exterior air unless its temperature was at least 70 degrees.
The selection of the architectural style for Rogers High School was cutting edge design for 1930s. At the time, the Art Deco style was at the peak of its world-wide popularity. The term Art Deco was coined in the late 1960s to honor of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris. At the exposition, twenty-one countries participated in what could be termed as the modern World’s Fair of the day.
First generation Art Deco buildings, like Rogers High School, boast zig zags, chevrons, circles, parallel and stepped back lines, and stylized vegetation. The inspiration came from a wide variety of naturalistic and technological images such as waterfalls, sunbursts, ferns, and flowers. Animals and plant forms were combined with abstract suggestions of energy and speed, such as waves, lightning bolts, new modes of transportation, even machinery.
The utilization of Art Deco ornamental elements in the design of Rogers stands out, especially in a town like Spokane, where the Art Deco idiom is not well-represented.
While Roger High School has undergone numerous alterations, the original 1932 building retains its character defining features and Art Deco styling. Over the years it had numerous additions.