Roosevelt High School | Los Angeles Conservancy
R Building, Roosevelt High School. Photo by Vivian Escalante/Committee to Defend Roosevelt

Roosevelt High School

On Tuesday, May 8, 2018 the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted to adopt the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Roosevelt High School Comprehensive Modernization Project and approve a plan to demolish and replace almost all of the historically and culturally significant buildings on campus, including the original Auditorium and Classroom Building (1922), also known as the R Building.

For nearly 100 years, Roosevelt High School has served as an important neighborhood anchor and iconic landmark of Boyle Heights. The campus played a key role in the 1968 East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts (Blowouts), which helped catalyze the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. The Committee to Defend Roosevelt High School/Defendamos la escuela Roosevelt, a grassroots group of local residents and Roosevelt High alumni, and the Conservancy urged LAUSD to reuse Roosevelt High School's significant resources as part of the campus-wide modernization effort.

The approved project is part of a district-wide school modernization program by LAUSD to ensure safe schools that meet current program needs. The Conservancy strongly believes that LAUSD can provide safety, quality education, and historic preservation—it's not an "either/or" choice. 

In 2018, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the five Walkout schools, including Roosevelt High School, on America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.

 

Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights opened in 1922. Over the decades, the campus expanded to nearly twenty-three acres, bounded by Mathews, Mott, Fourth, and Sixth Streets.

The original Auditorium and Classroom Building, popularly known as the R Building (as well as Building 1 in current LAUSD documentation), received a seismic upgrade and PWA Moderne-style remodel following the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. 

In March 1968, Roosevelt High School, along with Wilson, Lincoln, Belmont, and Garfield High Schools, was thrust into the national spotlight. Thousands of Chicanx students staged a series of organized walkouts to demand educational equity, known as the East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts (Blowouts).

Roosevelt High School administrators locked the gates surrounding the school to prevent striking students from leaving, and LAPD squad cars surrounded the campus to intimidate the strikers. Yet students participated in the Walkouts all the same.

Roosevelt's R Building was the primary setting for Walkout activities, such as a student sit-in and an assembly held by district officials. The Walkouts are considered the first major protest against racial and educational inequality staged by Chicanxs in the U.S., and an important catalyst for the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), LAUSD had to consider a range of feasible preservation alternatives to demolition. These alternatives would accomplish most of the project goals while retaining one or more of the campus’s historic buildings, notably the R Building.

In August 2017, the Board of Education authorized LAUSD to enter into a contract for design and construction activities associated with the Roosevelt High School Comprehensive Modernization Project. This action appears to have pre-committed LAUSD to the project design before the completion of the environmental review process, which should have considered a range of feasible preservation alternatives.

The Board of Education also commissioned two historic resource evaluations of Roosevelt High School in preparation for the project. After reviewing an evaluation from June 2015, the Conservancy raised concerns that the document omitted important historical information. We urged LAUSD to commission a more thorough historic resource assessment, that would consider local, state, and national eligibility criteria.

As a result, a subsequent historic resource evaluation was completed in May 2017. This report detailed the historical and cultural significance of Roosevelt High School. It identified the campus as historic district-eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places for its associations with the East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

March 6, 2018 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Walkouts, giving LAUSD a unique opportunity to recognize and preserve an important part of our shared Los Angeles history. Unfortunately, the Roosevelt High School Modernization Project was approved on May 8, 2018. The project will demolish and replace historically and culturally significant buildings at Roosevelt High, resulting in the complete loss of an important National Register-eligible historic district.

Safety, Quality, AND History

Students deserve the safest, highest-quality school facilities possible. LAUSD can provide safety, quality education, and historic preservation—it's not an "either/or" choice. Roosevelt High School should be modernized, but it doesn't need to happen at the expense of the community's shared history. A partial preservation approach would preserve the R Building while integrating new construction and desired community amenities, including a wellness center.

LAUSD has upgraded older buildings at other campuses, including Jordan High School in South Los Angeles and John Burroughs School in Hancock Park, to meet current needs. Historic buildings are commonly upgraded and seismically retrofitted. Technological advances provide many options for seismically retrofitting historic buildings. 

Roosevelt High School’s historic buildings shouldn’t be frozen in time. Preservation allows a lot of flexibility in adapting buildings to continue serving the community. Like any other building, historic buildings need proper maintenance and periodic updates. The current condition of a building does not dictate whether it can be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of historic building interiors can range from preserving existing features and spaces to total reconfigurations to meet new community needs.

LAUSD officials have claimed that R Building has significant seismic issues. Technological advances provide many options for seismically retrofitting historic buildings. Preservation architects and engineers have made great strides in addressing these concerns. 

Roosevelt High School played an important role in the East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts of 1968, which mark their 50th anniversary in March. LAUSD has a unique opportunity to preserve the buildings where this history happened. Doing so enlivens history, social studies, geography, ethnic studies, and other subjects for current and future generations of Roosevelt High School students and others who are interested in learning about the histories of Boyle Heights, the Chicano Movement, and Los Angeles.

When people think of Roosevelt High School, they think of the R Building and the important events and memories associated with it. Retaining the R Building would not lessen the various upgrades planned throughout the campus. 

Roosevelt High School has been identified as a National Register-eligible historic district for its association with the Chicano Civil Rights Movement by the City of Los Angeles’ SurveyLA in 2014 and LAUSD’s Supplemental Historic Evaluation Report for the campus in May 2017. As part of the environmental process, LAUSD should have considered preservation alternatives that would mitigate or avoid the significant effects of the modernization plan on cultural resources.