Shadle Park: Spokane's First "Modern" High School

  • By Stephen B. Emerson
  • Posted 8/04/2008
  • Essay 8724

Shadle Park High School, located at 4327 N Ash Street in northwest Spokane, was built in the mid-1950s and opened for classes in September 1957. Designed by Culler, Gale, Martell & Norriet, the building was Spokane's first Modernist-style high school. The asymmetrical, multi-tiered structure is made of concrete, glass, and composite materials. Shadle Park High School had a notable building and also met with almost immediate success both in the educational and athletic fields, earning many awards and accolades. This is a tradition the school has continued ever since. The building was remodeled in 2007-2008.

Educating Spokane

The first separate building for high school education in Spokane was built in 1891. Designed by architect Charles Helmle, it was simply called Spokane High School. After the construction of North Central High School, in 1908, the original became South Central High School. In 1910, the original building burned to the ground. Its replacement became the current Lewis and Clark High School. Both this building and North Central employed variations of the Classical Revival Style. The next high school built in Spokane, Rogers, was designed in the more modern Art Deco Style.

Following World War II, as the City of Spokane continued to grow in population and area, expansion was particularly rapid in the northwest portion of town. By the early 1950s it was becoming apparent that there was a need for a new high school in that area. On April 28, 1954, District Superintendent John A. Shaw presented the Spokane School Board with the preliminary plan for the new school. By this time, architecture was well into its Modernistic idiom, and the new school would be a showcase, ushering Spokane into the dawn of the twenty-first century. During the next four years Mr. Shaw and his successor as superintendent, W. C. Sorenson, pressed forward on the planning.

The Shadle Legacy

The site selected for the school was on land donated to the City in 1944 by Josie Comstock Shadle. The land was to become Shadle Park, in honor of Josie's husband, Eugene A. Shadle, who had recently died. An Iowa native, Mr. Shadle went into the dry goods business with J. M. Comstock, and both moved to Spokane in 1891, where they expanded into real estate. In 1901, Eugene Shadle married Josie Comstock, J. M. Comstock's daughter.

The Shadles were generous philanthropists with their fortune and, in 1936, donated the land for Comstock Park in south Spokane. The eastern portion of Josie Comstock Shadle's north-side donation was the chosen site for Shadle Park High School and the school as well as the park was named for her husband in November 1955.

Designing and Building

In February 1955, the contract for the architectural design of Shadle Park High School was awarded to the local firm of Culler, Gale, Martell & Norrie, associates of Perkins and Will of Chicago. By that time the principal of the school had already been selected. He was William W. Taylor, an experienced educator who had previously served 13 years as vice principal of Lewis and Clark High School. A graduate of Carlton College and the University of Minnesota, Mr. Taylor had been a high school principal in Cut Bank, Montana, and was a math teacher at Lewis and Clark before being named vice principal. He, along with Superintendent Sorenson and a representative of the architects, visited schools throughout the Northwest, assembling ideas of what was required of a modern high school.

Bidding for the general construction contract was opened in April 1956, with the job going to Henry George and Sons. The electrical contract was awarded to Baldwin-Briggs Electric and Kehne Electric, and the mechanical contract went to Warren, Little & Lund and James Smyth Plumbing and Heating. Consulting engineers were Joseph M. Doyle, Lyle E. Marque, and Kendall M. Wood. Construction began in May 1956. The cost of the 201,590-square-foot building was nearly $3 million dollars. Reportedly, it was the most expensive structure in Spokane history at that time.

John Culler, Fulton Gale, and Carroll Martell were principals in the one of the most prominent architectural firms in Spokane during the 1950s and 1960s. They specialized in designing institutional structures that reflected the modern ideals of those forward-looking decades, providing a definite departure from what had prevailed previously. Two of their structures won awards from the American Institute of Architecture. These are Greenacres Junior High School, built in 1966, and the first Spokane Falls Community College building, completed in 1967. Their firm was also a primary contributor to the design of the Federal Building on W Riverside Avenue.

Educational Excellence

The District intended Shadle Park High School to be not just a show piece of modern school architecture, but of educational excellence as well. The staff was hand-picked. To assist principal William Taylor, North Central High School teacher John Rodkey was selected as vice principal. Also chosen were Dr. C. D. Babcock, an accomplished musician, as assistant principal; Harry Finnegan, as dean of boys; and Helen Cleveland, as dean of girls. 

The teaching staff was assembled with an eye for a diverse mix of men and women with backgrounds at a variety of large and small schools. All of these people were subjected to an unprecedented six-week summer training session in 1957, as the construction of the school was approaching completion. Two participants, Bill Via and George Ross, later commented that the training "provided the opportunity to come together as a staff." Thus, Shadle Park High School was exceptionally well prepared when it first opened its doors to students on September 4, 1957.

A Showpiece Building

The new building was a striking departure from the other three high schools in Spokane. Its sprawling, multi-tiered, asymmetrical glass and concrete design was nothing like the brick-clad traditional designs of the other high schools, with their nearly identical geometric floor plans and hallway patterns, and orderly banks of double-hung windows. Shadle Park High School was a showpiece of modern architectural concepts that had been developed in earlier decades, but reached their zenith during the 1950s.

These ideas featured horizontal lines, glass curtain walls, and the use of a variety of other construction media, including concrete, brick, stone, and composite materials. Even the most jaded student must have marveled just a bit at the expanses of glass, the irregular hallway configurations, and the shiny aluminum of the entry door frames and the stair railings. In particular, one staircase singularly descended from the ceiling, as if it were the portal of a starship.

First Class

The students that attended Shadle Park High School that first late summer of 1957 were entrusted with extraordinary responsibilities. The Highlander was chosen as the mascot, with its Scottish thematic elements, and green and gold as the school colors, rendered in authentic Scottish plaid. This idea reached its fruition in 1964, when the graduating class presented the design of the Shadle Crest, a traditional coat of arms with symbolic renderings of Scottish and local icons. A student government was formed and officers elected. The first edition of the student newspaper came out on October 30, 1957. The front page proclaimed "The Shadle Park ??? -- You Name It!!" After much discussion, the students settled on the name Hi Lander Hi Lites, which first appeared on the April 5, 1958, issue.

Shadle Park High School did not issue an annual yearbook its first year, but did put out a similar publication called a memory book, recounting that initial session. The first formal yearbook came out in 1959. It was called the Sporran, a Scottish term for a large purse suspended from a belt at the front of a kilt. Another school tradition was the victory bell, to be rung on the occasion of varsity athletic successes, presented to the school by the graduating class of 1965. In 1966, the bell was cracked during boisterous clanging following a basketball game. The class of 1967 presented the school with a cast iron replacement made at the St. Louis Brass and Iron and Bronze foundry. Both bells remain on campus.


The official dedication of Shadle Park High School did not take place until January 14, 1958. One reason for this is that the auditorium was still unfinished at the time the school opened for classes. It was not completed until November 1957. But everything was in place for the 8:00 p.m. ceremony.

The Dedicatory Address was given by former Spokane School Superintendent John A. Shaw, who had overseen the early planning of the school. Mr. Shaw was introduced by serving Superintendent William C. Sorenson. Other speakers included James E. Winton, president of the Board of Directors of Spokane School District no. 81, Fulton Gale Jr., of the local architectural firm that designed the project, Lawrence Perkins, of the associated Chicago firm, Principal Taylor, Jim Coolbaugh, who had been elected Associated Student Body President, Willard Taft, the Mayor of Spokane, and T. J. Meenach, who was serving as the chairman of the Spokane Park Board.

At the beginning of the 1959 school year, Vice Principal John Rodkey moved on to take the position of principal at North Central High School, and was replaced by Lowry Bennett. The following year, Dr. Babcock was replaced by Walter Anker at the assistant principal position.

Shadle Park High's Swimming Pools

In the fall of 1958, City of Spokane voters approved a $797,000 bond issue for building new city pools. One of these new pools was to be placed adjacent to Shadle Park High School. Early plans called for an outdoor pool that would be equipped with removable walls and roof so that the pool could be converted to all-season use. But the final plan was much more grandiose.

Two separate pools were built, one an outside facility and the other fully enclosed for year around use. In the summer, both pools would be accessible to the public, when the high school's locker rooms would be available for public use as well. During the school year, Shadle Park students would be the only school in the city to enjoy the use of a fully equipped swimming pool. Ground was broken for the pool in November, 1959, and it was finished the following spring.

Shadle Park High Today

In 2007-2008, Shadle Park High School underwent an extensive renovation, filling in part of the central exterior courtyard. This, and other changes, detracts somewhat from the school's original appearance, but most of the architectural elements that made the building unique remain intact. During the same period, the original swimming pools, both outdoor and indoor, were demolished.

Sources: N. W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Coutry, Washington, Vol. 1 (Spokane: J. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912); Joe Gruber, "Growing City Adds Shadle Park High," Spokesman-Review, August 18, 1957, p. 5; Shadle Park High School student newspaper [Hi Lander Hi Lites], Vol. 1, No. 1 (1957); Ibid., Vol. 1, Nos. 4, 5, 8 (1958); Ibid., Vol. 2, No. 2 (1958); Ibid., Vol. 3, Nos. 1, 6 (1959); Ibid., Vol. 11, No. 6 (1967); Spokane School District No. 81, Shadle Park High School, brochure (C. W. Hill Printing Company, 1957);  First Class for 100 Years: Spokane Public Schools ed. by Hugh Davis (Spokane: Spokane School District No. 81, 1989); Sporran, Shadle Park High School yearbook (1960).

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