This is the 4th building this School has occupied since 1838


Central High School, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Date added: March 01, 2024 Categories: Pennsylvania School Catherine, Irwin T.
East (main) facade (1986)

Central High School was the last of the over 100 school buildings designed by Irwin T. Catharine during his tenure as Architect and Superintendent of Buildings for the Philadelphia Public Schools School Board.

Central High School brought to a close two important epochs in Philadelphia school construction. For the first time since 1818, a major hiatus occurred in new building starts, not until 1946 would the School District commission another new school. It also ended a period of 69 years in which all school buildings were designed in-house. Starting with the Solomon Solis-Cohen School in 1946 and continuing to the present day, the majority of school buildings in Philadelphia emanate from outside architectural firms.

Central High School, as an institution, is one of the oldest high schools in America and the first outside of New England. The School Law of 1836 authorized the creation of a high school. Philadelphians eagerly seized upon this authority to found an institution that would symbolize the difference between the new public school system and the old "charity schools" which carried a stigma of pauperism. Unlike high schools of today, an examination was required (and still is) for admission. The first school building was erected in 1837-1838 on the site of the present Wanamaker's Department Store. The present edifice, erected on the 100th anniversary of the first structure, is the fourth home of Central High School. None of the previous three have survived. The success of the school in its preparation of young men (and now young women) for college and post-academic life is unparalleled in the city. Many leaders of Philadelphia, in all walks of life, graduated from Central High School.

Building Description

Central High School is one of the last two schools built during the Irwin Catharine era. Its style is Moderne, its plan follows an E-shape. The front two-story block possesses a central seven-register section flanked by matching three-register wings. This central section contains entrances in the outside registers. These matching entrance registers are limestone-faced with a central opening. Three matching doors appear on the ground floor, recessed stone panels separate the doors from the second-floor windows, and six over six double-hung sash compose these windows. The carved name "Central High School" appears above the second floor windows and a City of Philadelphia seal is carved above the name. The remaining registers of the central section each contain 2-story window openings with 6/6//9/9//6/6 double-hung sash topped by 4-6-4 transoms respectively. Carved figures are situated above the second-floor windows. Vertical limestone sections separate each of the brick registers.

The two matching wings stretch three registers wide with limestone facing on the outside corners and vertical limestone sections separating each of the registers. The window arrangements are similar to the central section with 2/2//8/8//2/2 double-hung sash and 2-8-2 transoms. The sides of these wings are four registers wide with an entrance within the rear register. These entrances are similar to the front without the carved Seal of the City of Philadelphia.

The window arrangements are identical to the front of the wings. Stone coping tops all elevations of the main block and of the three rear wings.

These three rear wings, forming the arms of the E, are three stories high (the north wing has a fourth-story addition), and ten registers wide. Composed mostly of brick, the outside wings have a limestone first floor facing outward, and each of the wings has a limestone-faced rear register, stone coping tops these wings. A 1-story, brick and limestone maintenance building is attached to the rear of the central wing.

Central High School, Philadelphia Pennsylvania South wing (1986)
South wing (1986)

Central High School, Philadelphia Pennsylvania East (main) facade (1986)
East (main) facade (1986)

Central High School, Philadelphia Pennsylvania East (main) facade (1986)
East (main) facade (1986)

Central High School, Philadelphia Pennsylvania South entrance, east elevation (1986)
South entrance, east elevation (1986)