Stadium High School looks like everything but a high school. Locally nicknamed “Brown Castle,” the school certainly looks more the part of a castle than a school. The school is so picturesque, it has starred in multiple movies including the 1999 romantic comedy classic, 10 Things I Hate About You (Health Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It doesn’t take an architectural historian to guess that this wasn’t originally originally a school. So what’s the real story?
The site of Stadium High School (located in Tacoma, Washington) was purchased by the Tacoma Land Company in 1889. Construction began in 1890 on what they dreamed would be best hotel on the west coast, but the project was abruptly halted by the financial panic in 1893. By 1903, the hotel was fire damaged and slated for demolition. The Tacoma School Board stepped in and purchased the building, which opened as Tacoma High School on September 10, 1906. It became Stadium High School in 1913, and has been ever since (over a century!).
This early twentieth-century building reuse project has provided Tacoma with an architectural gem that draws locals and tourists alike. Not only is it stunning to see in person (I was so jealous of all the local runners that get to run up and down these stairs every weekend!), but it is a piece of history that is irreplaceable by contemporary construction. Let us learn from history that reuse projects can result in spaces that serve the community and benefit generations to come.
My sources: Where did I get information about the history? I found a majority of this on historical signs in the area. The photos are all my own.
Eager to see Stadium High School on “the big screen?” Check out the final scene of 10 Things I Hate About You, which shows panning views of the band Letters to Cleo playing on the Stadium High School roof (check out this video, starting at 2:00). You can see the scene of Health Ledger dancing down the football stadium steps here.