The Tulsa Preservation Commission voted to recommend that Webster High School be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2021. The art deco school building opened in 1938 as a depression era recovery project by the Public Works Administration. The main building features the original cast aluminum plaques and metal torch lanterns framing the front entrance. The school grounds still have the original bridges and many of the original trees. In 1941, the gymnasium was added to match the style of the original structures.
“The community members who come into the building are always amazed by its beauty and stature and the way we have tried to preserve its integrity,” said Principal Shelly Holman. “The beautiful woodwork, wooden doors with the chicken wire in the windows, light fixtures, and even built in file cabinets within the classrooms are elements that are still intact and give Webster its historical charm. The art deco is incredible! The details carved into the buildings, the clock on the front of the main entrance, the clock in the main office which still works, the outside light fixtures, Time Life pictures hanging on the wall of the main office, and all of the antiques we have located and showcased are my favorite areas.”
The school’s historical collection includes old band uniforms, typewriters, and a xylophone used during announcements. One of the most notable events at Webster occurred in the 50s.
“Webster was the first public high school in Tulsa — and one of the first in Oklahoma — to adopt integration in 1955 after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling, issued May 17, 1954,” explained Donna Savage, Daniel Webster Alumni Foundation president. “[Daniel Webster High School] immediately developed plans to integrate its student population after the 1954 decision. Many of Webster’s students played sports with the African American students on the westside, so the transition went smoothly reflecting on the character of the school and its students.”
Donna said when Webster opened the curriculum and facilities were celebrated as a benchmark for education that helped people make a living. The school had classes in commercial cooking, commercial art and design, metal work, auto mechanics, and welding. Classrooms were equipped with the latest technology to support these classes as well as the basics — from math to English.
“In 1942, Life Magazine sent journalists along with world renowned photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt to Tulsa to document several innovative programs being taught at Webster, Central and Will Rogers. Eisenstaedt, famous for his iconic photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day, documented many of the classes in these three Tulsa High Schools,” said Donna. “Webster’s ‘Family Life’ course was very unique for the times. There was an actual nursery school on campus complete where the high school students helped the young children from their meals clear though taking a nap. Several of the nursery school children went on to become Webster students as they grew up.”
If the nomination is approved, the school would gain the protections offered by the National Register of Historic Places to preserve the original buildings and property, and it would highlight the amazing legacy of the school.
“As the Principal serving the west Tulsa community for 13 years, I know the rich history and legacies within the community,” said Principal Holman. “West Tulsa is unique – providing a small school environment for our students. In everything we do with students, we try to continue the pride and traditions which have given this community their unique place within Tulsa Public Schools. I feel very connected to the community and know that being added to the National Register would be a great honor and would call for celebration!”
The recommendation will be presented at Oklahoma State Historical Society meeting in January 2021. Then, the nomination will be sent to the National Park Service for final approval by spring 2021. For more information about the school’s namesake and notable alumni, click here.
Principal Holman also encourages anyone who would like to tour the building to reach out to the school. She said alumni especially enjoy walking through the halls to reminisce. Check out the slideshow below to learn more about the history of Webster High School.