April 15th, 2021, marks the 100 year anniversary of the dedication of the historic Florence High School, located at 215 Maple Avenue, in Florence, Colorado.
When the Florence High School was constructed in 1921 it was the realization of a dream of a more modern Florence. Before the age of the internet, you had to physically “wow-impress” visitors with actual handsome-in-real-life buildings. Modern, attractive public buildings equaled a thriving successful city. Buildings were the physical representation of the hopes of the community, and the old High School was imbued with the dream of a common education and growing the success of each new generation. Citizens realized then that knowledge was crucial to a prosperous local economy. The Florence business community have always dreamed bigger than their little city and supported the construction of the beautiful high school, one of the very last Classical Era Progressive governmental buildings erected in Southern Colorado.
We were a little late to the game, but we arrived, nonetheless. By 1921 America was recovering from some difficult years, and the Arts and Crafts style had grown in popularity. Architecture moved in a new direction, but happily we were left with this gem of a school.
Exactly 100 years later there is an economic and educational rebirth at the old Florence High School, and in many ways its foundations are the stately architecture of the school. The impressive schools of this era are in a sense, our American castles. As humans we flock to immense masonry buildings built with careful design and care. The Florence High School is a building you cannot help but be proud of. With its rebirth, a modern workforce can now work from home or anywhere, so where do they want to be? In cool historic buildings that have meaning, where they themselves are helping to create the new meaning of the building and community.
While the Florence High School was aspirational at the time it was built and was probably a little larger than we needed, it was truly on par with buildings of school districts in much larger cities. These American castles are expensive and difficult to maintain community icons. The cost of maintenance of upkeep for our old Florence High School resulted in its matriculation from education, but luckily, it fell into a new chapter of significance almost immediately. It is rare to repurpose such large buildings into anything at all in rural America, and most are bound for the dump despite best efforts of the community. So, to have local business leaders willing to take it on, leveraging the building and history into new jobs, ways of working, and success for local people, that is truly remarkable.
When citizens originally heard about the ownership change to the old campus, they were most worried something would happen to the gorgeous façade. To help protect the historic architecture, it is with great pride that the City Council recently voted to assist the Emergent Campus getting listed on the national Register of Historic Places. With these next steps the building will be protected as a historic landmark and continue to be a source of pride for all children who learned how to be better kids and citizens at that school. The listing will also help to make certain that state grants are available to assist the owners in maintaining the building as a center of education and commerce in Florence. We believe the work and investment on this project will create new meaning for an entirely different generation for the next 100 years.
Guest contributor, Wade Broadhead, is the Planning Director for the City of Florence, Colorado, and has been a National Alliance of Preservation Commission (NAPC), Preservation Trainer, since 2013.