"There was just something about this school and the people. It was a good mix, good sports, good teachers, we had good everything.”
Andy Kevorkian, Class of 1945
For many alumni like Andy, the West Philadelphia High School was more than just a learning institution. It was the centerpiece to a community of active participants, innovators, artists, musicians, athletes and scholars. Built in 1911, the school was the first public high school west of the Schuylkill River. It was also one of the first buildings constructed by the School District of Philadelphia and used state of the art engineering systems and design details that were replicated in schools throughout the area during a prolific period of construction. The alumni has a long history of achievement both within and outside of the classroom and include Rhodes Scholars, professional athletes, actors, jazz musicians, judges, city officials and greats of their respective industries. The alumni network stretches far and wide across Philadelphia and even includes the grandmother of one of the builders and several members of the construction crew. A new West Philadelphia High School was constructed in 2010 and the West Philadelphia Alumni Association has maintained a strong connection with the school and continues to connect current students at West to resources within the alumni network.
Throughout the conversion of the property to West Lofts, we have had the opportunity to meet members of the West Philadelphia Alumni Association and to learn about the school in its active years and show them our plans and the construction in process. We were overwhelmed by the alumni’s willingness to share personal recounts, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, yearbooks, and archives to supplement our knowledge of the school’s history, but most of all, their pride in and fondness for what West was to them. It is hard not to feel that collective spirit in the walls and rooms of the building today.
The culmination of our work with the alumni association and documentation of the building is the subject of this blog project. We are intending to post on the blog periodically as we interview alumni from different periods, uncovering the many layers of the school’s history and discovering the impact that West has played in the community at large, as well as share photographs of the alumni and the building before construction.
The transformation of the classic West Philadelphia High School building into loft apartments carries with it a rich social and architectural history which resonates throughout the building.