by Marc D. Thompson
Old School Square Cultural Arts Center and National Historic Site is a nationally recognized historic preservation project and a testament to the role of the arts in downtown revitalization. The restored school buildings now house the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture, Crest Theatre, Vintage Gymnasium and restored classrooms, where world-class exhibits, performances and education programs continue to enrich the greater Delray Beach community.
The Delray Elementary School was built at the corner of Atlantic and Swinton Avenues in 1913. The school originally served grades 1 through 12 and when the city’s population grew, the Delray High School was constructed nearby in 1925. Eventually, the city’s population grew to the point at which these two schools were no longer sufficient and plans were drawn to build a new high school north of town, which became first Seacrest High School (now Atlantic High School). When the new school opened, Delray Elementary expanded to fill both buildings on the old campus.
Palm Beach County School Board abandoned the campus as Banyan Creek Elementary School opened in the western part of the city in 1988. Fortunately a group of concerned citizens, led by members of the Delray Beach Historical Society, started an initiative to preserve and restore the buildings of the former schools. They recognized the cultural value of preserving buildings that had been an integral part of the city’s history and they saw that the buildings possessed the potential to be transformed into a new cultural arts center for the area.
In 1986, the site was incorporated as Old School Square, Inc. and plans for renovation of the buildings commenced. In 1988 “Delray Beach Schools” was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and by 1990, the first phase of the project was complete, as the Cornell Museum of Art and History opened in the original Delray Elementary School building. Three years later, the Crest Theatre opened for its first season in the former high school auditorium, which had been converted and modernized into a professional venue for the performing arts. In 1998, renovation of the Crest Theatre was completed as the work on the classrooms was finished, and they were opened to the public. The outdoor entertainment pavilion opened in 2002, complete with a concession building.
Old School Square’s Mission is “to be the community’s cultural center, enriching the lives of all people by presenting diverse experiences in visual and performing arts, education, and entertainment; nurturing artistic expression and involvement; providing a community gathering place; and preserving our National Historic Site.” Visit our historic buildings and support our community. The Old School Square is located at 51 N. Swinton Avenue and at www.oldschool.org.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_School_Square, http://www.oldschool.org/, Atlantic Ave Magazine