A Brief History of East High School
The greatness of East High School is measured in the number of outstanding scholars it graduates, the number of athletic trophies it has won, the large number of prestigious alumni who called the hallowed halls of East home, the long list of dedicated and distinguished teachers and administrations, the wide variety of clubs and activities it sponsors, the life-long friendships forged “under the clock,” the strength of its curriculum, and most interestingly, the grandeur of the building itself. In the early days of East High School, students and faculty alike were asked to pledge themselves to an "Aristocracy of Service." Let us hope that 100 years from today this pledge is still being honored by those that make up the East family.
The history of East High School started where Denver began, near the South Platte River in Lower Downtown Denver. Although elementary education began as early as 1859, the first high school opened in 1874. Arapahoe School became the first public high school in the Denver area and was named after the Arapahoe Indians who lived near the river. The school quickly became the pride of Denver, as there were few impressive public buildings. In May of 1877, seven students walked across the stage of Central Presbyterian Church and became the first graduating class of what was to become East High School.
In 1881 “Old East” was opened. The official name was East Side Denver High School. The word "Side" was dropped later. This grand edifice stretched out from Welton to Stout Streets and between 19th and 20th Streets. By 1902, the Rush Amendment passed the Colorado legislature and Denver: School District One was created. Old East was the pride of the community.
The building was referred to as “Denver’s Greek Temple of Learning.” In fact, Greek and Latin were required and a classical approach to learning would control the curriculum until John Dewey’s ideas of a more pragmatic educational philosophy would drive public education.
This grand building soon proved to be too small for the growing population of students. Construction work began in 1922 to build the “New East” on the City Park Esplanade. East proved to be a perfect fit for mayor Spear’s plan for a “City Beautiful.” The Esplanade had been completed in 1907 and the Sullivan Gateway completed in 1919. Now all the area need was an impressive building. In the fall of 1925, the first classes entered East High School in a building which to this day remains one of the architectural gems of Denver.
East has proven to be more than a building. It has been the home of thousands of Angels, many who went on to serve distinguished lives and bring pride to a historic school. For many, East has been the flagship school in the Denver district. A strong curriculum, bolstered over the years by some of the best and brightest teachers in the district, has kept East High School as the premiere school in Denver. A strong program in speech, student publications, ROTC, music, drama, Constitutional Scholars, and a diverse selection of advancement placement courses has made East the “school of choice” for many outside the normal East High neighborhood. A strong involvement by parents, many of them East High graduates, has strengthened the school over the years. A strong athletic program keeps East High competitive with the growing suburban programs.
For more information about the history of East High School, you can purchase the book, Flights of Angels: A History of Denver East High School, written by Mr. Richard Nelson who taught English at East High School from 1964 until his retirement in 1995. Contact Mr. Nelson for more information about the book.
Written by Richard Nelson, East High School teacher, 1964-1995 and author of "Flights of Angels: A History of Denver East High School.”
[All photos courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Collection.]