Central High School is located in Santurce, a sector of the municipality of San Juan. It is the largest educational institution built during the early decades of the 20th century by the United States government. The construction of the school was related to the initiative to Americanize education on the island.
Puerto Rico’s first high school, known as San Juan Grade and High School, dates from 1900. Originally, it was located in the Alms House in Old San Juan. Later, the school was transferred to a wood building where Casa de España is currently located, and later to the residence of the Látimer family in Santurce. Because the structure was damaged during the 1918 earthquake, the students had to be transferred temporarily to Rafael M. Labra School, and afterwards to a few wood structures in Puerta de Tierra ward, in the same place where José Celso Barbosa School is now located. The construction of the new structure, which was known as Central High or Palacete, begun in 1923 and was finished by 1925.
The Spanish revival design of the Palacete is attributed to architects Pedro Adolfo de Castro and Francisco Roldán, although the signature that appears on official documents is from Adrian C. Finlayson, who was then the chief of the Public Buildings Division of the Interior Department of the island government.
The reinforced concrete structure is adorned with ornamentations of molded cement. The U-shaped structure with its arms open at an angle is a reverse of the traditional concept of a solid façade aligned with the street and converts what would be the patio into a monumental entrance that is accessed via a wide staircase.
The entrance portico has six colossal columns that support an eclectic composition of elements that includes candelabra. The entrance leads to a vestibule, the gymnasium and the classrooms on the east and west sides of the main floor. On the second floor, a main hallway leads to secondary hallways that provide access to the classrooms and the auditorium.
Central High is an important landmark in the Puerto Rican culture. Its students participated in the first intercollegiate games held in the decade of the 1910s, against the Normal School of Río Piedras, the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts of Mayagüez and the Polytechnic Institute of San Germán. It was here that the first student strike took place in 1915, in favor of the law proposed by José de Diego that decreed Spanish the official language of Puerto Rico.
Since 1988, the structure has been known as the Central High School of Fine Arts. It has been considered an historic monument since 1976 and has been on the United States Parks Service’s National Register of Historic Places since 1987.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Catalog of Properties, National Register of Historic Sites, State Office of Historic Conservation, Office of the Governor, 1995.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 08, 2010.
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