By Luke Anderson
March 8, 2017
The Laramie Plains Civic Center is massive - it takes up an entire city block between 7th and 8th Streets and Garfield and Custer Streets. Despite the characteristic Art Deco exterior facade from the 1939 addition, the school (at least portions of it) actually predates the state of Wyoming. The original part of the school was built in 1878 as the East Side School and is the oldest public school building in Wyoming. The school predates the University of Wyoming by eight years.
The original school looked much different than it does now. When it was built as the East Side School, the building was tall and cubic with an Italianate style, but the original portion of the building can only be seen from above now. The school received two major expansions in 1928 and 1939 which essentially encased the original structure inside the additions with interior courtyards. The addition on the front of the building (north) with the combination of Gothic and Art Deco features was completed in 1939 and the addition to the south of the building was completed in 1928 by well-known Laramie architect Wilbur Hitchcock. The two additions used distinctively different types of brick, with the 1928 addition using a red raked brick and the 1939 addition using a more traditional brown brick. One of the more unique features of the building is the unfinished concrete swimming pool in the basement of the school.
The building was used as a school until 1978. Until 1960, the high school and junior high were both located in the same building - hence the need for such a large facility. In 1960, the "new" Laramie High School located on 11th Street opened its doors and the Civic Center was then used as only a junior high until 1978. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and officially became the Laramie Plains Civic Center in 1982. Today, the building serves as an important anchor for community and creative activities in Laramie. The Civic Center plays host to musicians, artists, a theater company, a school, professional and government offices, and the Gryphon Theatre, a popular venue for music and film screenings. The Laramie Plains Civic Center is a terrific example of how former school buildings can be adaptively reused for the greater good of a community. Laramie will have to face this issue once more as the high school built in 1960 is now empty after the city built a brand new high school that opened in 2016.
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