Central auditorium

Brad Jones, director of maintenance, transportation and grounds for Tahlequah Public Schools, points to names scrawled on a stage wall in the auditorium at Central Academy.

There are a number of old campuses in the Tahlequah Public Schools district, including the sites of the Sequoyah Prekindergarten Center and the administration building.

Another older set of buildings sits between North Mission and North Cherokee avenues, and West Morgan Street and Academy Street, and it is home to an auditorium that was once the envy of schools around the state.

The Central Academy auditorium was included in the construction when TPS built its high school on the acreage.

Central Academy originally served as Tahlequah High School until 1984, then filled in as the junior high school, then became a fifth- and sixth-grade center. Herrington said it was built in 1923.

But the site was a place of learning before TPS moved in. The American Baptist Mission school was first at the location, standing for about 20 years. Its building looked similar to the middle portion of Central Academy today. The city purchased the mission and its five acres of land eight years before plans were made for the new school.

Tahlequah voters approved $60,000 in bonds to fund the structure, which ultimately cost $85,000.

An article in the Jan. 11, 1924, Tahlequah Arrow newspaper described the auditorium: "…the first thing they see is the wonderful auditorium that will seat approximately 700 people. It has a large stage, two mighty fine dressing rooms and the stage is equipped with lights that throw any color you want or might need. There are 10 steam radiators in the auditorium and there is also a fireproof vault for the motion picture machine and a fire escape at the rear of the stage. The auditorium is wonderfully arrayed with electric lights. The Arrow-Democrat doubts if there is a better auditorium in the state."

Local historian Beth Herrington remembers the auditorium from her years as a music teacher with TPS.

"It was the only auditorium we had in the school system," Herrington said. "We did a lot of musicals there. I would have to call the police and walk my students from Sequoyah Elementary School to the auditorium to rehearse, and of course we had to cross Choctaw Street. It could be like herding cats."

Herrington remembers organizing large choir concerts and musicals on the venue's stage.

"We once had a circus review musical where the children portrayed animals, and we had a ringleader and barkers," she said. "At the back of the auditorium, there was a projection booth and they could show films. There was a slanted floor with rows of seats, and the stage had dressing rooms in the wings on either side. Whenever we did a performance, the piano sat down below the lip of the stage. They held high school choir concerts for years, and they are still using some of the rooms up there on the second floor."

Today, Central Academy serves as TPS' alternative school. The auditorium is largely obsolete now that the district has constructed its performing arts center.

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