Ghost of the Old Castle

On September 5, 1984, I walked through the doors of Grover Cleveland High School for the first time.  I attended St. Louis’ most popular magnet school at the time, Kennard NJROTC Academy.  The St. Louis School Board decided to move the program to “The Castle on Grand”.  Cleveland High School would graduate many St. Louis children on St. Louis’ South Side.  My mother-in-law graduated from Cleveland in 1970.


The Castle on Grand: Grover Cleveland High School in St. Louis – Courtesy of Google Earth

St. Louis Public School System had been losing students for decades, so several high schools were well below capacity.  Moving the popular magnet school program to Cleveland seemed like a great way to save the historic building.

William B. Ittner, St. Louis most well-known architect, designed and built the building in 1913.  For the next 71 years, it would be a South St. Louis institution although it’s nickname was misleading.  The school’s athletic field was off Grand Avenue.  Cleveland High School was located in the 4300 block of Louisiana Avenue, 4352 Louisiana Avenue.


Grover Cleveland High School in St. Louis From Grand Avenue – Courtesy of Google Earth

For some reason, the School Board decided to put the school nickname to a vote of our current student body.  Our principal, a Cleveland alumni himself, gave an impassioned speech to keep the historic Cleveland High School team name, The Flying Dutchman.  Keeping the nickname would have preserved over 70 years of St. Louis history and it had a naval tie-in.

However, leaving the decision to a bunch of rebellious teenagers was a disaster.  Outside of a few kids, whose parents impressed Cleveland’s history on them, the name was voted down for our team name from Kennard, The Commanders.  I’m ashamed to say I voted for The Commanders name myself.


Overgrown Football Field and Outside Basketball Courts – Courtesy of Google Earth

Overall, the NJROTC program did help to preserve Cleveland.  It grew so much in the first year, the School Board repaired part of the third floor, which had a leaky roof, to add music classes to the school.  The administration also repaired the swimming pool in the basement.

In 1989, the program briefly moved back to Kennard for one year, so an addition could be added to the school and repairs could be made to the aging building.  It seemed like Cleveland High School’s future was secure.  Eleven years later, the St. Louis Board of Education abandoned Cleveland.


Addition to Cleveland from the intersection of Louisiana and Bingham Avenues – Courtesy of Google Earth

Several efforts and fund-raising groups formed to save the Old Castle but so far none of the efforts have been successful.  Converting the school to another use, such as apartments, may be its only hope.  Developers would have quite a job.

My little sister recently shared a link to a lady’s photographs of the inside of Cleveland.  If the building is depressing from the outside, it is heartbreaking from the inside.  Vandals did some damage but water and mold are the main destructive forces in the building.

Cleveland High School faces an uncertain future.  When I walked out its doors in June 1987 with my high school diploma, I did not foresee such a fate for it in the future.  Sitting abandoned and decaying, The Old Castle deserves better.

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