Taking a note from the 1956 Provo High School yearbook the school’s “structure is old but its heart is young.”
The summer of 1956 was the last year for the old Provo High School located on Center Street where Provo City Hall now resides. It had been a gathering place for students and the public since 1920.
As if brick and mortar could speak to the students, the yearbook noted “progress decrees a new building for their children and children’s children; but to them I am still the mother of their memories.”
After a three-year push by beloved principal Delbert Tregeagle — he served from 1947 to 1969 — and a bond approval, a new school was finally built.
In the fall of 1956, where once was just an open field, a new school opened its doors on North University Avenue.
Local architect Fred L. Markham was the architect for the school that was described in the ’57 yearbook as majestic architecture with floating stairways that graced the south end of the main hall.
“Sunlight, bursting through the east windows bathed wall and staircases in shining glory,” the 1957 yearbook staff stated.
The school opened, “to the youth of the fifties who stood clear eyed and unafraid on the threshold of the atomic age,” according to the yearbook.
Now, in the evolution of time and things, the old Provo High School on University Avenue is preparing to shut its doors to high school classes for the final time this summer.
A new state-of-the-art school will open its doors this fall in west Provo. It is the age of technology and a new millennium, where students have a myriad of gadgets and gizmos and inventions around them to keep them informed, entertained and up-to-date on what’s happening around them.
Before this shift, the Daily Herald is taking a few moments to step back in time and follow the trends and experiences of generations called the baby boomers, Generation X and the millennials.
Provo High students, like other teenagers around the country, were taking charge in post-World War II United States. They had jobs and that meant spending money, and they used that money to build a new pop culture.
From saddle shoes and penny loafers, and crinoline petticoats and poodle skirts, to button down collars and blue jeans, the class of ’57 were trendsetters.
The Provo High mascot was a real, live bulldog named Vic. One of the first theatrical presentations at the new school was “Our Town.”
The staff of the Provost Yearbook described the gym as, “The spacious gymnasium provided ample room for growth of school spirit at the basketball games.”
At lunch they would gather to visit, or listen to Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers.
That same year the USSR launched Sputnik 1 into space, the first nuclear reactor plant was opened in Pennsylvania, and U.S. troops were sent to Arkansas to enforce segregation laws.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States with Richard M. Nixon his vice president. Senator Joseph McCarthy was outing alleged communists on the Un-American Activities Committee. Martin Luther King Jr. began his national resistance to segregation campaign.
It was an era of change.
“I can remember they were having a lot of failures with the rockets,” said Gary Graham, class of ’57 of the space race.
When they weren’t involved with school activities the class of ’57 hit the Uinta or Princess theaters in downtown Provo and watched movies like the “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Old Yeller,” “Peyton Place” and “Funny Face.”
When their homework was over they adjusted the rabbit ears antenna and tuned in on the black and white TV to “Perry Mason,” “I love Lucy,” or “Maverick.”
On Saturday morning’s the TVs were tuned to the new hit show “American Bandstand.” The show was led by young up-and-coming disc jockey Dick Clark out of Philadelphia.
Out on the school grounds kids were trying out a new sport with the first Frisbees. The Slinky and hula hoops were also the new rage.
And if they wanted to cruise Center Street it was most likely they would use the older model Hudson Hornet or flashy new Nash Cosmopolitan. But if you had a convertible the cruise of the day would be in a Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.
Over the decades the students and even Provo High itself has changed. New classroom wings and other additions to the school have made the campus almost unrecognizable to some former students.
While teenage and Provo High students’ lives continued to change, Provo was changing.
The senior class of ’57 shopped at Taylor’s department store, Woolworths, Shipp’s Jewelry, ate at the Walgreens lunch counter, and listened to KOVO radio.
Just around the corner was the decade of the ’60s, the English invasion of the Beatles, the Bay of Pigs incident that nearly pulled the U.S. into war and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that changed the world and student lives forever.
“A friend and I were at lunch and heard over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,” said Willy Shaw, class of ’65.
“We went back to school (PHS) and were to go to assembly. Everyone was talking about the shooting so it was noisy,” Shaw said. “Then a person with a transistor radio had it on. Everyone quieted down and we were all (about 200 plus people) listening to that transistor radio. We were all sent home after everyone learned about the president’s death.”
Shaw said she along with some of her friends went to the popular Hi-Spot Drive-in when they left school. Hi-Spot was later featured in the popular movie “Footloose.”
Less than a decade later, current and former students in 1967 were fighting a new war in Vietnam. An honor wall at Provo High acknowledged alumni who had been killed or missing in action.
In the Provost yearbook of ’67 the staff described a trip to downtown Provo as, “Crowds, parking tickets, needing more money than you have, red lights, finally getting a parking place; buying a new dress, shoes for the dance, $48?!, tired feet.”
Looking for recreational activities, Provo High students gathered for bowling at the Regal Lanes, they dined at the Royal Inn and shopped at Clarks clothing store.
By 1977 students’ hair had gotten longer, pant legs belled at the bottom and the Provost yearbook of ’77 proclaimed “Provo High is bullish on the Big Green.”
In 1987 the Provo High Halloween dance was themed around the land of fantasy. The yearbook that year reported that typically the decorations and special effects would be the most frightening. Instead the most frightening thing was their fellow students.
The students proclaimed in the yearbook, “We are caught up in tradition, we are finding the right and blending the extreme.”
Students in 1997 were mourning the death of Lady Diana Spencer, formerly Great Britain’s princess. Students were already starting to worry about the Y2K frenzy and the end of the millennium, most of their attention was turned to school work and achievement.
In 2007 the yearbook staff reflected on student life this way: “Each step on the campus of Provo High School brings the world into focus. Suddenly the air is crisp, the sun is sharpened and our goals are now in sight.”