Thomas Jefferson High School | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Thomas Jefferson High School

This exquisite Streamline Moderne school was designed by the noted architectural firm of Morgan, Walls, and Clements. Notable features include the horizontal banding, rounded corners, and distinctive “Broadway Script” lettering.

Built as a replacement for an earlier Colonial Revival style high school campus in 1936, Thomas Jefferson High School served a primarily African American student body and had a dedicated corps of African American teachers, some of whom were nationally recognized educators. The original facility opened in 1916, making it the fourth oldest public high school in Los Angeles. 

The school's proximity to the Central Avenue jazz scene, which peaked in the 1930s, meant that an impressive number of graduates went on to become renowned jazz musicians and performers. 

Samuel R. Browne, a Jefferson High School graduate, was among the school's most distinguished faculty members. Browne, who received advanced degrees from the University of Southern California in music and education, wanted to teach locally, but the only schools that would offer him a job were segregated schools in the South. Instead, Browne went on the road with a musical quartet and later returned to take a job at Jefferson High School. In 1936, he became the first black teacher to integrate the school, amidst strong objections from the all-white faculty.

A number of graduating students went on to serve their community and earn acclaim in their fields. A musical and athletic legacy distinguished Jefferson as well, and the campus has been a focal point of the black community for many years.

By some estimates, Jefferson High School is believed to have produced more prominent jazz figures than any other school in the western United States. The school counts Dexter Gordon, Etta James, Art Farmer, Melba Liston, Chico Hamilton, Ivie Anderson, and Richard Berry among its notable alumni. 

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