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This Month In History: The Battle for Broadway High School in 1946.

Broadway High School, 1909. Image: University of Washington

The center portion of this building probably looks a little familiar to you. That's because an altered version of it using the original stone around a different interior remains today as the Broadway Performance Hall at the south end of Seattle Central College. In its original form as pictured above though, it was Broadway High School founded in 1902. And when the class of '46 graduated on June 13, 1946 it was on a somber note for many because it would ultimately be the last senior class the school would ever see.

After 44 years, the Seattle School Board announced, just three weeks before the ceremony, that they wanted to close the high school and convert it into an all-veterans training center. Several organizations vocally expressed their opposition including the Capitol Hill Commercial Club, the Capitol Hill Lyons Club, and the Broadway High School Alumni Association. Their opposition came to a head on June 7 at the Seattle School Administration Building where 150 people gathered to debate the potential closure.

Broadway High School closure debate. June 7, 1946.  Image: Seattle Times

The opposition argued that the 3 other Seattle High Schools were not equipped to absorb the 1000+ students who would be displaced, that their new commute would be too burdensome, and that the "veterans problem" was only a temporary one and did not warrant the permanent closure of a high school. On the contrary, various veterans groups supported it as a matter of urgency and that it was the community's responsibility to fulfill the requirements of the G.I. Bill. On top of this, school board Superintendent Samuel E. Fleming argued that declining enrollment over the past 5 years, caused by Broadway's growing business district, justified the closure. And so despite the vocal opposition, the school board remained firm in their decision after the hearing. Those who opposed it attempted to overturn the decision in court thereafter, but were obviously not successful. BHS went on to operate as a veterans training center with evening adult classes in connection with the adjacent Edison Vocational School.

June 1946. Going down the old high school's main steps for the last time are these Broadway students. Image: Seattle PI

Be that as it may, something doesn't seem quite right about Fleming's justification.

In the 5 years prior to 1946, the U.S. declared war on the axis powers in December of 1941 prompting many to prematurely to drop out of BHS to join the war effort. And aside from that, roughly one third of the BHS student body was Japanese by the time president Roosevelt signed the executive order to have them incarcerated on February 19, 1942. Therefore, the unusually low attendance rate cited appears to be more related to war time measures rather than a shift from residential to commercial activity.

And it is for these very reasons that many have since believed that the real reason the board chose to shutter the high school was due to embarrassment over their handling of the Japanese incarceration. What's even worse on that note, the school fired all of its Japanese staff shortly before President Roosevelt signed the infamous executive order. An order which did not officially cease until March 26, 1946: less than 2 months prior to the board's decision to close the school! So it's no surprise that attendance might still appear low at that point. The hundreds of displaced Japanese students would have hardly had the chance to resume their prior lives if at all.

Surprisingly some did in fact find their way back such as senior Kazuo Tanemura who only passed away just this past April. After graduating in '46, he went on to earn a Mechanical Engineering degree from University of Washington, then served as an engineer in the US Army, and finally he rounded out his career as a Boeing engineer reaching the distinguished rank of Senior Principal Engineer.

You can see photos below of more of his fellow graduates, courtesy BHS Archives.

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