Thursday, October 27, 2022

Renovating Nameless High School


(Portland Public Schools)

Many Portlanders would have trouble identifying the building above, erected in 1909.  Its Renaissance Revival architecture was rendered as "un-recognizable” in a recent study, following “modernization” in the 1950s. . 

But given a clue that the building’s address is 5210 N. Kerby Ave., people are more likely to say, “Oh, yes! That’s Nameless High School!”

For 110 years, Nameless High School was identified with American pioneer who wrote a historic document believed by some to be important to creeation of the United States. But because of other comportment, he is no longer deemed worthy of veneration.  A statue of his likeness was pulled down in 2020, and Portland Public Schools has announced that a new name will be provided.

Nameless High is now the latest of several any Portland high schools to be completely revamped and remodeled.  A preliminary plan suggests that the historic wing from 1909 will be saved and braced for earthquakes, while additions added in 1928, the 1950s and 1968, probably will be removed to make room for new construction. 

The current campus is a sad architectural mishmash. The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission is expected to hear a description of the remodeling plans on Nov. 14. Previous remodeling efforts at Grant, Roosevelt, Benson and Franklin High Schools have included considerable respect for their historic architecture.  One can hope for the same at Nameless.

Nameless High School today

The fact that renovation of Nameless High fell far down the school district’s renovation list is irritating to many neighbors.  They are inclined to believe that once again they were penalized by forces relating directly or indirectly to their melanin factor.  For decades, reprehensible public policies and real estate practices restricted areas where people of darker hues could purchase homes, and Nameless High was their neighborhood school.

On the other hand, as the school’s student population, as high as 2,000 in its earliest days but now dwindling near 700,  the renovation schedule may have been driven by achieving results for the largest number of students at the quickest pace. Preliminary plans suggest that the school's future population could climb as high as 1,700. 

As often occurs in populations ravaged by discrimination, sports offered a clear outlet for proving student achievement.  A quarterback at Nameless later won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player in 1962.  One of his teammates at Nameless starred in college and in the National Football League, where is honored on the Dallas Cowboy’s Ring of Fame.

Even as its student population declined, Nameless High continued to thrive in basketball, where its teams often handily defeated opponents from Portland’s larger high schools and sent a few players to the National Basketball Association.

In the 1980s, an outstanding teacher at Nameless created a creative dance program involving rigorous pre-professional training and choreography that has won wide acclaim.  Renovation of the school is expected to create new spaces for dance practice and performances, as well as new athletic facilities.

Of course, the planning and execution of the renovation plan is expected to take at least a  few years.  In the meantime, the school district will be trying to find a new name for Nameless.

 Here is a modest proposal in that regard from your Building on History host.  The school should be called Renfro-Baker High School.  If those names don’t ring a bell, you haven’t studied your Nameless High School history.

 ----Fred Leeson

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  1. Pete Ward would love that re-name !

  2. I find this all very sad. My school is going to cease to exist.