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High School of the Performing Arts

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Title: High School of the Performing Arts  
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Subject: Danny Burstein, Mike More, Richard Nelson (lighting designer), List of New York City Designated Landmarks in Manhattan from 14th to 59th Streets
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High School of the Performing Arts

This article is about the school in Manhattan. For the school in Houston, see High School of Performing and Visual Arts. For similar schools, see School of Creative and 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
The 46th St facade in 1975

The High School of Performing Arts, now more formally known as The School of Performing Arts: A Division of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, is a public alternative high school in New York City, USA. The school, informally known as "PA", was established in 1947 and first occupied its own building the following year.

In 1961, the school was merged with another alternative arts school, the High School of Music & Art, while each retained its own campus. Plans for establishing a joint building for the merged schools took many years to be realized. There was opposition to loss of PA's individual identity. Both student bodies eventually moved into a shared building in 1984.

Many well-known performers were trained at the school, such as Jennifer Aniston, Ving Rhames and Suzanne Vega.

The 1980 film Fame was set in the High School of Performing Arts, though the building was not used in filming.


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 programs in Music, Dance, Drama, and, for a time, Photography. There were many professionals on staff, including the young Sidney Lumet in the Drama Department. His production that year[which?] was The Young & Fair.

Development of a new building and a joint school

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 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, but was superseded by a location within the newly developed Lincoln Center complex. A groundbreaking ceremony at the second Lincoln Center complex occurred 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, failed to reach beyond the planning stages. The new school would include students from PA's "sister school," the High School of Music & Art (or "MA"), which was 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. This combined institution became known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, named for the founder of MA. The school 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 these decades of uncertainty. Ground was broken for a new building at the Lincoln Center in 1973, but New York City's budget crisis caused all work to stop. Construction resumed in the early 1980s. Finally, in September 1984, the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts welcomed students from both schools into their new building.[1]

Opposition to merger with the High School for Music & Art

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, while the other was a fine arts school, preparing students to become professional gallery or concert artists. In 1978, Alumni Carol (Rubin) Gordon and Nick Gordon, members of the parents association, began the school's first Alumni Association with the goal of lobbying for the continued separate existence of PA. They feared a school which had 450–500 students in the 1950s at the original site and which had grown to just 600–800 students at 46th Street would lose its quirky identity in a massive educational complex three times its size. The Alumni Association met opposition, however, from the Board of Education's Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola and other school administrators. Macchiarola had overseen the "marriage into one single Fiorello La Guardia house" of sister schools PA and MA in the first place.

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 preserve PA as a separate institution, as construction on the new building had begun again in earnest.

End of individual School for the Performing Arts

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 reopened in 1995 as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of International Careers.


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

Notable alumni


External links

  • Website of the Alumni & Friends of LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
  • Website of the School of Performing Arts Alumni Association
  • Report on a documentary on the School of Performing Arts with interviews of former teachers
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