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West High School

West High School (6/14/31)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-19021

West High School

Why do they call it… West High School?

When it was built, West High School was at the westernmost edge of the city of Madison.

At the start of the 20th century Madison’s public high school was located in the heart of downtown on the isthmus. In 1924 a second high school, East, was opened on the far eastern end of town. As subdivisions began filling up to the westward – Nakoma, Wingra Park, and Westmorland among others - the school board decided to purchase the Carpenter farm on Regent Street as the site of a school to serve that part of town. The Carpenter farm was bordered on the west by Highland Avenue, which also served as the city limit; just beyond were the Rentschler greenhouses and three cemeteries – Forest Hill, Calvary, and Holy Cross. The site was controversial; on April 22, 1924, the Capital Times reported that E. E. Brossard wanted the school placed at the end of West Washington Avenue overlooking Lake Wingra. “It is,” he said, “foolish to believe that Madison is going to expand far enough westward in the next ten years to make this [Carpenter] site a centrally-located one.”

Alice Felt, in an oral history recorded by Historic Madison, described the area before and after West was built in 1929:

“When we moved out here [in 1925] Highland Avenue was a dirt road. There were only about five houses - two houses on Chamberlain Avenue and two or three houses on Kendall Avenue. On Kendall Avenue [there] was a slaughterhouse. They moved that about twenty years later and made a home out of it. Then on the corner down there was Corker’s grocery store and the barbershop on University Avenue. Up where West High is now was a great big cornfield. It was the Carpenters’. They lived down on the corner of Allen and Regent. She had cows and everything. There was a drugstore; they were there for a long, long time. Then when West High was built they had to close because the kids stole them blind… Down on the corner of Regent and Allen there was a drugstore and the handi-shop. The man that ran the handi-shop had to close. The West High kids would just go in there and keep taking things and taking things, so he closed. And the man that ran where the antique store is now, he closed up, too. A very nice fellow. And then next door to that on Allen Street was Palm’s shoe store and a beauty parlor. The lady, Mrs. Klein, lived on the corner and she raised birds. Canaries.”

“I don’t know if I should say this, but there was this lady on the school board who was bound that they were going to have that property [Rentschler’s Greenhouse] for the school playground. The Rentschlers went through three different courts to try to save it. Then the agreement was that the office and the new greenhouses were supposed to stay, but it ended up that nothing stayed. And that beautiful Rentschler home! That was heart breaking! It was just beautiful! They took everything. People are still talking about that that greenhouse should never have gone down.”