Kenner High School, Kenner Louisiana

Date added: January 12, 2023 Categories: Louisiana School

Kenner High School was the first school to be built in the City of Kenner. It originally offered all grades, becoming a junior high in the late 1950s. Because the building is beneath the flight path of the nearby Lewis Armstrong International Airport, in 1993 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bought the property as part of the 1990 FAA Noise Abatement Program. In February 1995, a land swap between the City of Kenner and the FAA saved the school from demolition. The municipal government now owns the building and plans to restore it for use as city offices.

Located along the north bank of the Mississippi River, the City of Kenner stands on ground under cultivation as early as 1720. By the mid-1840s these lands (consisting of three plantations) were owned by four brothers; Minor, William Butler, George R., and Duncan Farrar Kenner. (The latter achieved fame as a Confederate States diplomat and, later, for his innovations as a sugar planter.) By 1852 Duncan and George had sold their Jefferson Parish lands to their brothers, so it was Minor and William Butler who decided to subdivide the area into a town site when the newly formed New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad announced a proposed route across the Kenner plantations. The subdivision was apparently delayed by the 1853 death of William Butler Kenner; Minor was not able to hire a surveyor to complete the work until 1855. Kennerville, as the village was first known, developed very slowly. Although a foundry opened around 1858, it apparently brought few settlers to the town; and it appears that the majority of lots sold before Minor Kenner's 1864 death were used as truck gardens. German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, and a number of freed African-Americans, settled there after the Civil War. Kenner was incorporated in 1873 but lost its charter thirteen years later. Lumber and vegetable packing businesses opened there in the 1880s, a new city charter was granted in 1913, and the community was connected to New Orleans via the Orleans-Kenner Traction Company (a streetcar line) in 1915. Nevertheless, Kenner remained a small agricultural village far into the twentieth century. Today Kenner is a largely modern suburb of New Orleans.

Building Description

Located near the Mississippi River's levee, the Classical Revival style Old Kenner High School stands on the river's north bank in the Jefferson Parish town of Kenner. Although New Orleans' Lewis Armstrong International Airport is located a short distance away, a handful of simple early twentieth-century residences and a mid-twentieth-century elementary school are the high school's nearest neighbors. Initial construction of the two-story, masonry building was completed in 1924; five years later the School Board added a two-story addition at the building's northeast corner.

Kenner High's facade displays a five-part composition of projecting and receding planes. These consist of a slightly projecting central pavilion and two projecting end pavilions connected to the central section by receding hyphens. The rear elevation features a two-story section (the auditorium) projecting from the middle of the main building block. The rear elevation of the western end pavilion also projects slightly, as did that of the eastern pavilion until the addition lengthened that side of the building even further. Each portion of the facade is pierced by bands of windows, as are the side elevations and part of the rear.

Much of the building's Classical Revival ornament, made of cast concrete, is found on the school's facade and side elevations. (Decoration was omitted from the outer walls of the addition and the rear elevation.) The central pavilion features fluted pilasters that divide the surface into three bays. The building's main entrance is found in the central bay beneath a brick arch with a cast concrete voussoir and a cast concrete tympanum with decorative carving. Small cartouches fill the spaces between the curve of the arch and the sill of the window above. The pilasters have molded bases and simplified acanthus leaf capitals above single strips of necking. They support a heavy entablature divided into architrave, frieze and cornice. The frieze contains three raised plaques, each centered above the bay below it. Taken together, the plaques read "Kenner High School," with one word on each plaque. The frieze also displays decorative patera centered above the pavilion's four pilasters. A shaped parapet with concrete coping surmounts the entablature. The ends of the parapet, located above the central pavilion's end pilasters, project slightly, framing the receding central plane of the parapet and emphasizing the verticality of the pavilion. Vertical rectangular panels featuring floral motifs decorate the projections. However, the parapet's most significant decorative feature is an oval cartouche flanked by horizontal rectangles containing carvings suggestive of open books. The central pavilion's entablature and parapet extend in both directions to encircle the building. Beyond the central pavilion, the entablature's frieze is ornamented by cast concrete squares containing bas-relief flowers. Although much of the remaining parapet is straight, it is shaped above the end pavilions. There, the facade parapets feature central geometric motifs combined with the same flower-within-a-square decoration found on the frieze.

Although the exterior's Classical Revival features stand forth, the building is made even more impressive by its use of patterned brick motifs in various places. For example, the portions of the entablature's architrave and cornice that run beyond the central pavilion are composed of bands of slightly projecting brick. The pillars framing the windows of the end pavilions feature five columns of horizontal brickwork divided by four columns of vertical brickwork. Brick lozenges are found between the first and second-story windows. Brick windowsills and lintels, a brick water table, and a brick belt course also provide the building with ornament and texture. Although not decorative features, three metal fire escapes survive on the exterior.

The interior plan is fairly conventional. A large entrance opens into a minimal lobby which leads in turn to a continuous hallway running from end to end of the building. Offices and classrooms with cloakrooms are located on the south side of this long hall. On the other side, the corridor opens into the central auditorium, which is flanked by staircases that rise to the second floor and also descend a few steps to boys' and girls' restrooms. At each end of the building, the hallway makes 90-degree turns to extend into the end pavilions and the addition, where more classrooms and cloakrooms are located. On the second floor, the corridor opens into classrooms, a storeroom, a teacher's lounge, and the auditorium's balcony. A large library fills much of the western end pavilion on this floor.

The two-story auditorium has fine plaster decoration. A heavily molded and denticulated cornice encircles the space and also outlines ceiling beams that divide the area into three parts. Paneled pilasters with elaborate acanthus leaf capitals above necking separate the side walls of the balcony from the rest of the auditorium. The stage features a segmental arch proscenium supported by pilasters whose capitals are less elaborate than those associated with the balcony. Outside the auditorium the interior is treated more simply. Multi-light transoms located high in the walls between classrooms and hallways allow air to circulate. Most interior spaces have chair rails and baseboards. The original wooden floors survive.