If Renaissance High School for the Arts had a mascot, it might be a phoenix, the bird from Greek mythology that was consumed by fire only to rise from its own ashes to live again.
Today, the small campus at the corner of 8th Street and Long Beach Boulevard is being "reborn" again. Thanks to local school bonds, a $40 million campus improvement project is underway and is set to be completed this summer.
The campus makeover will be the fourth iteration of buildings on the historic site, originally opened in 1898 as Long Beach High School, the first public high school in Los Angeles County outside the City of Los Angeles.
In 1918, the campus, then home to George Washington Junior High, was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. In March 1933, the massive Long Beach earthquake hit, destroying many buildings citywide including the Washington school. The campus was subsequently rebuilt a third time to house both the Trade Extension Evening High School and John Dewey Junior/Senior High School.
By 1940 Dewey School became a continuation high school for working students under the age of 18. During the 1942-43 school year, it was transformed into a vocational education facility for defense workers, designated as a War Production Training Center. In 1966 the school received another name change, to Reid High School, after local oilman and conservationist Will J. Reid.
The latest occupant is Renaissance High School for the Arts, a 500-student visual and performing arts magnet, established in January 2004. Renaissance High provides students with a challenging visual and performing arts program as well as a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.
In fall 2016, students and staff relocated to a temporary campus at nearby Butler School while the Renaissance campus underwent major work. Renovations include a new physical education building and a performing arts building with a "black box" theater, complete with 240 movable seats. All buildings will be upgraded to the latest accessibility and safety standards.
This fall, students and staff will return to their renovated home campus. The move is being eagerly anticipated, especially by the 11th graders who were at the Renaissance campus as ninth graders and will return to complete their final year there.
"We miss the cozy, homey space at Renaissance," said Annie Grace, a junior who is interested in a costume design career. "That campus has a magical Hogwarts-like feeling that is unlike anywhere else."
Another junior, Mauricio Orozco, said he’s looking forward to the larger theater space, which will serve both as a performance venue and a rehearsal space for larger productions.
"We used to have to set up a stage and practice outside, rain or shine," he recalls. "It will be nice to have a new theater with all the latest lighting and flexible seating features.”
The Renaissance campus will retain much of its historic character. Though a magnolia tree at the center of campus was removed to make way for the new buildings, a student-led campaign saved the tree trunk. When students return, they’ll find that tree trunk converted into a six-foot bench in the administrative office. At Renaissance, even the trees have more than one life.