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Toxic High School

In the 1930s, the Silver City Dump operated as the second-largest landfill in New Orleans. Known as the “ulcer of the city,” the landfill collected 150 tons of garbage.

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Above, workers repair part of the Silver City Dump after fill was removed for a harbor project.

During the 1930s the New Orleans NAACP led a fight for a second high school due to overcrowding. Black leaders pushed for a vocational training school since most black students were expected to go to work right after high school. This led to problems with the white community who viewed a new vocational high school as a threat to white jobs. School board officials came to a compromise and agreed that the trades taught at the new high school would be mostly occupied by African-Americans. However after purchasing land, the school board backed out of the deal and built another school on the property instead. Black leaders were not swayed and kept the issue alive. Finally in the late 1930s federal funding came through. The vocational school they were hoping for was coming. The landfill was filled in and the school board purchased the site.

Booker T. Washington High School

Opened in August of 1942, by September the school enrolled 1600 students. The first graduating class in January 1943 consisted of 11 girls and 1 boy. The popular vocational classes that year were printing, motor mechanics, and shoe repair. In 1947 classes like graphic art, masonry, and mechanical drawing were offered to students.

Hallway lockers cracked and peeling post-Katrina.

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The Art Deco auditorium became the center for many cultural activities.

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Black musicians were not allowed to play on stage at Symphony Hall so the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra decided to move to the Booker T. Washington auditorium so that black pianist Jean Maloney could play with them. The show was well received with a full house. The next year William Grant Still conducted the orchestra who went on to become one of the first well known black orchestra conductors.

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A packed house listening to the New Orleans Symphony. These nights were special, the crowd would be dressed as nice as the performers.

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The auditorium in 2015 covered in graffiti.

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Once abandoned, the school quickly became a popular spot for thieves stealing architectural details from the Art Deco building.

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Booker T. Washington High School was a victim of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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 Vandals shattered windows and tore out thousands of dollars worth of copper.

16154154040_5419c344eb_kRows of seats waiting to once again be filled.

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In 2011, Booker T. Washington high school was 80 percent demolished. The front entrance foyer and the auditorium were left standing. The auditorium will be preserved with a new prep school being built on the site. Preservationists contested that Booker T. Washington could have been saved and renovated for much less than the cost of the new $50 million school. During demolition workers found the soil has 24 times the allowable limits of toxic metals. Exposure to these toxic metals can cause cancer and respiratory issues. The state-run recovery school district added an additional $3 million for cleanup on top of the $55 million price tag of the new school. The school board suggested digging the soil up and storing it on site to be transported away later. Neighbors worry disturbing the soil will release the toxic metals into the  air. An active construction site now, the prep school is slated to be finished in 2017.

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