High School of Performing Arts

High School of Performing Arts
The High School of Performing Arts
Established 1947
Type Public Alternative High school
Founder Franklin J. Keller
Location 120 West 46th Street,
New York, New York, USA
Campus urban
Closed 1984
Merged with The High School of Music & Art
To form Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
Website http://www.highschoolofperformingarts.com/
The 46th St facade in 1975

The High School of Performing Arts, more formally known as The School of Performing Arts: A Division of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, informally known as "PA", was a public alternative high school in New York, New York, USA that existed from 1948 through 1984.



Early years

The school was created in 1947 by educator and creative thinker Franklin J. Keller, as a part of Metropolitan Vocational HS, using his staff and administrators on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Under Keller's stewardship, it offered music and theater arts programs in addition to the traditional "trade" skills.

In 1948, it occupied a disused 1894 public school building on West 46th Street in the Times Square area. The new school offered exciting programs in Music, Dance, Drama, and, for a time, Photography. New staff hired, had many professionals, including the young Sidney Lumet for the Drama Dept. His production that year, was "The Young & Fair."

Threatened existence

Franklin J Keller in 1950

Beginning in the mid 1950s, the New York City administration regularly announced plans to move PA out of its ancient building and into new quarters. These plans included joining the current PA student population (around 450–500) with another student body from another school in a newly constructed building. A site in the Lincoln Square area was chosen, then later moved to the newly-developed Lincoln Center complex. A groundbreaking ceremony at the second Lincoln Center complex was held in 1958, with Mayor Robert F. Wagner attending. The Mayor and City Council made promises to alumni, students and to the New York press that the new site would be ready to house students by 1964. These and all other previous announcements never reached past the planning stages. It wasn't until the early 1970s that construction actually began on a new school on a third site located behind the Lincoln Center complex. The new school would include students from PA's "sister school", the High School of Music & Art, located in Upper Manhattan. Performing Arts High School and The High School Of Music & Art were known as "sister schools" because in 1961[1] they were merged on paper into one school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, which received one single funding allocation, with two separate student bodies and faculty split in two different locations.

PA continued to audition, educate and graduate hundreds of students during its decades of threatened existence. After grounds were broken for the second time on the new building in 1973, sitting on the third allocated site, all work stopped due to New York City's budget crisis, and did not begin again until the early 1980s.

Alumni rally

Performing Arts High School and Music & Art High School had become two distinctly different schools; one was a performing arts school, preparing students to become professional stage performers, the other was a fine arts school, preparing students to become professional gallery and concert artists. Alumni Carol (Rubin) Gordon and Nick Gordon, members of the parents association, attempted to end the constant threat to PA's survival in 1978 by beginning the school's first Alumni Association, with the goal of lobbying for the continued separate existence of PA. The Alumni Association met opposition, however, from The Board of Education's Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola (who oversaw the "marriage into one single Fiorello La Guardia house" of sister schools PA and MA in the first place) as well as from other school administrators.

Landmarking tactic

Ms. Gordon's next attempt to preserve PA was to enlist the help of an architect, who was also a member of the parent's association, in beginning the process to declare the school building a New York City Landmark. In 1982 the building was ultimately declared a NYC Landmark but it was too late to save PA, as construction on the new building had begun again in earnest. In the fall of 1984 Performing Arts, and its sister school Music and Art, were combined. Performing Arts, a school which had 450–500 students in the 1950s, at the original site, and which had grown to 600–800 students at 46th street, lost its quirky identity in a massive educational complex three times its size.

End of PA

The PA Building in 1950

In June 1984 the last graduating class from the "old building" departed. In September of that year, students moved to the Music & Art site and the two "sister schools" were finally united in one building. Now, the two schools were finally identified to the public eye as being "The Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and The Performing Arts". Performing Arts High School had finally vacated its old building, joining students from The High School of Music & Art, and become one single entity.

In winter 1988, the vacant PA building at 120 West 46th Street caught fire during renovation. Its facade and several exterior walls survived; the interior needed complete reconstruction. It now exists as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of International Careers.

Life after PA

In 1992, Barry Plaxen, a 1955 alumnus from the music department, began holding private reunions with former classmates from the years 1954–1956. Three years later, he formed PA The First Ten (PATFT), serving the needs of PA alumni from the years 1949–1959. Working with the LaGuardia School's alumni association AFLAG, PATFT co-sponsored the 1998 ceremony unveiling the Landmark of New York site plaque installed in the facade of the original building on 46th Street.

In 2000, Plaxen and PATFT joined Ellen Lerner and Roanne Genge Patterson, 1966 alumni from the drama department, to form the School of Performing Arts Association, which described itself thus: "We have established this association to continue to fulfill Dr. Keller's vision by providing for ourselves as adults the same kind of encouragement, nurturing and opportunities to fulfill our own artistic and creative potential, as was given us by our beloved teachers and mentors."

Since 2000, the 46th Street building has served as the site of a yearly celebration welcoming alumni, faculty and friends of PA for weekends of socializing, reminiscing, and performances.

On June 12–13, 2009, the 61st anniversary of the formation of PA was celebrated at the 46th Street site. Additionally, anniversaries for the classes of 1949, 1954, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1974, 1979 and 1984 were noted. More information can be found at the official PA Alumni website.

On June 12, 2010, members of the Class of 1970 met for an unofficial reunion at the City Grill on Columbus Avenue. The reunion was organized by Bart Levine and Barry Axelrod. A Facebook page for the Class of 1970 was created after this get-together.


In 1980 the motion picture Fame, based loosely on student and faculty life at PA, was released. In 2009 a "remake" of Fame was released.

Notable alumni


  1. ^ "LaGuardia Arts: The Mission". LaGuardia high School website. http://www.laguardiahs.org/about/mission.html. Retrieved 18 December 2010. 

External links

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