The History of
Pelham Memorial High School
When the decision was made to build Pelham Memorial High School, the Town of Pelham seized the opportunity to construct a building that was to become renowned for its architecture and state-of-the-art facilities. By the time the dedication was held, all of Pelham celebrated a community-wide effort that literally carved from virtual swampland along the Hutchinson River an educational and athletic facility dedicated to the memory of those who served in World War I.
According to news reports from the time, the High School's origins stem from February, 1917 with the establishment of a "School Extension Committee" formed "to take up the problem of making provision for the ever-growing needs for increasing the educational facilities of the district." (The Pelham Sun, April 28, 1922) The architectural firm of Tooker & Marsh in New York City was selected through a competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architects. Multiple firms competed and the selection was made by a broad-based committee, including residents with art and architecture experience, who later contributed to the interior decoration of the building. The construction company was Smith Brothers, a local firm that built many of Pelham's local landmarks.
The building designed by Tooker & Marsh consisted only of the current entrance pavilion at the corner of Colonial and Corlies Avenues and two identically-sized wings -- a boys' wing to the left and a girls' wing to the right. In the center was the current auditorium and gymnasium beneath it.
The architectural style was described at the time as "Collegiate Gothic," a style that lent itself well to the use of gray granite as the primary facade material. All of this exterior stone was quarried directly from within Pelham. The center entrance pavilion was, and remains, the most significant architectural component of the building. The center, two-story protruding bay originally had leaded-glass, cross-hatched windows with stained glass crests as insets. These regrettably, have fallen victim to modern replacement windows. Fortunately, the original oak door, leaded glass transoms and glass canoply all remain as do the limestone insets above and beneath the windows. The interior also features outstanding architectural features, including the oval-shaped, stained glass skylight on the top floor. The auditorium, with its heavy oak detailing, originally had painted murals within the gothic panels on both sides of the stage. News accounts from the time also describe the High School as having "oak trim and doors," "an unusally artistic chapel with gothic ceilings" and room for the planned installation of a pipe organ in the auditorium.
The exterior landscape work was designed by Lewis & Valentine. In addition to tennis courts, the "Roosevelt Athletic Field" (later renamed Ingall's Field) included a running track and a combined baseball diamond and football field. The field was surrounded by an iron fence over which it was to have had "a variety of climbing roses." Trees were individually dedicated to the those who died in "the Great War."
Although the cornerstone was laid October 18, 1919, the Pelham Sun described the "[m]any difficulties ... in carrying out the work. Wartime scarcity and the high price of materials, and inability to obtain deliveries all tended to delay progress ...." One year after work began, work on the gymnasium and auditorium was described as "at a standstill" as contractors waited for steel. The building did not open until September 19, 1921. The dedication ceremony on May 6, 1922 put Pelham on the map as having one of the premier high school facilities in all of Westchester County. Both U.S. Senator James W. Wadsworth and U.S. Congressman Benjamin Fairchild attended. Congressman Fairchild, a native Pelham resident, in his opening speech stated: "in dedicating this High School building, we are dedicating something which represents not only the last word in high school architecture, but which represents a noble thought in making the development of our educational system as a memorial ... I know what it means, and my heart goes out to every parent whose son went to the war, and my heart gives consoling thought to the parents of those boys who didn't come back."
Fortunately, good planning had gone into the original building, which was described as "designed so that another wing can be added without disfiguring the architecture, in case the present space should prove inadequate." Within just a year, a cartoon appeared in the Pelham Sun showing a public school bursting at the seams. In fact, prior to the more recent middle school extensions, several additions were built with such architectural harmony as to seem part of the original building. The first of these extensions came in 1924, when architect Charles M. Hart (a Pelham resident) designed the wing along Corlies Avenue that includes the gymnasium, library and "projection room" (re-dedicated in 2010 as "Alumni Hall").