The José Julián Acosta School was the first building constructed on the former site of the Santiago Gate, which was part of the southeastern section of the walls around Old San Juan and was demolished in 1897. The school was built as part of a series of institutional buildings that were constructed from west to east on Constitution Avenue (formerly Ponce de León Avenue) in Puerta de Tierra. These construction projects were part of the Americanization project that was conducted by the United States government in the early decades of the 20th century.
The structure was built of reinforced concrete. The United States firm Clarke, Howe & Homer designed the plans. Architect E.B. Homer, who was director of the Rhode Island School of Design, came to Puerto Rico in 1906 as a consultant to the government because until that time the school buildings that were being built on the island were not suitable for the climate. Homer had designed, among other educational buildings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The construction of the school was directed by Spanish builder Antonio Higuera, who had won the contract from the San Juan School Board in 1907.
The school, which was known then as the San Juan School Number 1, was a two-story building and offered elementary level classes. The original structure measured 225 feet long and 40 feet high. Its monumental style is typical of the schools designed by Homer, who raised the level of school construction in his era. His style combined a mix of influences, but the most dominant was the California Mission Style. Some historians and architects believe that this architectural style, with its Spanish roots, was intended to mitigate the effects of the imposition of a new, Anglo-Saxon culture on Spanish Puerto Rico.
The design followed the model then in use in the United States for high schools, with two stories emphasizing horizontal lines and a central, French style portico. In the case of the José Julián Acosta School, there is a window above the neo-classical portico with its Doric columns.
In 1927, the original structure underwent a series of renovations, including the reconstruction of the entrance portico and the fence, as well as the addition of stairways, bathrooms and offices. Today, the school provides both high school and middle school classes, with a specialization in theater. It offers a combined curriculum of theatrical arts and an academic curriculum. This includes, among other specializations, courses in theater, corporal expression, art, music and sound design, diction, dance, technical production, theatrical makeup, theatrical wardrobe design, theatrical music, scriptwriting, acting, acting style, staging of acting styles and theatrical staging.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 27, 2010.
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