In 1913 the Board of Education purchased 27 acres at the junction of Erie and Madison Roads from the estate of Andrew Erkenbrecher, the founder of the Cincinnati Zoo. At that time the site was a small farm with a few scattered buildings and a pasture for grazing cattle. The site had been selected by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Randall Condon, and the President of the School Board, Dr. John Withrow, for the new East High School.
After two years of planning (Garber & Woodward Architects), ground was broken in December 1915, but construction was delayed because of the supply needs of World War I. At one point there were plans to use the main buildings as a hospital for wounded soldiers, but the war ended before that occurred. However, the pipes for the operating room remained in room 534, covered by a desk, until the renovation in 1989.
When the school was completed in 1919, it presented an imposing appearance. The architecture was a departure from the customary school type, being a combination of northern and southern colonial in a campus setting. The low red brick building with its pilloried portico, the lofty tower, and graceful bridge are reminiscent of Revolutionary days. On the tower and buildings are engraved quotations from Ruskin, the Psalms, and Superintendent Randall Condon. The Hyde Park Business Club donated a handsome Rookwood fountain fashioned of varicolored tiles and bearing the signs of the zodiac. The Women’s Garden Club presented the flagstones that surrounded the fountain and added greenery to the campus. The construction cost of the buildings was $1,350,000.
In September 1919, the school opened with an enrollment of 1300 students and 65 teachers but not everything was completed. Electric lights, class bells, and parts of the laboratory equipment were lacking. Two buglers served as the announcers of class periods. The lunchroom was opened, but so incomplete that the students had to bring their own tableware. The stadium was still under construction, and the back athletic field was still a woods. Football players walked a mile to and from practice in a nearby field and had no lockers or showers. Games were played under the colors of orange and black, a choice of the Senior and Junior classes of 1919.
When school reopened in September of 1920, several changes had taken place. The corridors had lockers instead of holes in the walls, two gyms and two swimming pools were ready for use, and the football stadium, with a capacity of 8,000 was ready. A magnificent pipe organ was donated by Mr. Richard K. LeBlond, whose company was located at Edwards and Madison Roads. The Tower News was organized in 1921 as a biweekly paper supported entirely by subscriptions. In 1929 the tennis courts were installed. The first graduation to be held in the stadium was in 1942.
In 1924 the Board of High Schools decided to honor the retiring President of the Board of Education, Dr. John Withrow, by changing the name of East High School to Withrow High School. In 1925 Withrow had an enrollment of 2100 and a faculty of 90. In 1927 the 7th and 8th grades were added to the school.
East Night High School was in existence from 1911 – 1937 and classes were held in the East High School building and eventually the Withrow High School building. It was intended for students that could not attend day classes due to necessary working conditions, family care concerns or for any reason that daytime classes were not an option for individuals who wanted a high school education.
While the campus and its buildings are impressive, it is the clock tower that symbolizes Withrow. Standing 114 feet high, it is the center of the entire school plan. Inside the tower are 110 steps leading to windows above the clock, where, on a clear day, one can see for miles. A clarion that taps the Westminster chimes was added in 1969. When active it played chimes every quarter hour and tunes at 3:00 p.m. This feature was removed during the 2008 refurbishing due to neighbor complaints about noise. The base of the tower bears an inscription from the book of Psalms, “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” The inner workings and facings of the clock were restored by the Verdin Company (who origially installed the clocks in 1919) in 2008 at a cost of $56,000. The Alumni donated $46,000 towards the repairs. The clock lights and motors were replaced in 2017 at a cost of $17,000 funded by the Alumni.
The Minstrels was created in 1930 by the school’s 22 year old band director, George G. “Smittie” Smith, and performed under “Smittie’s” direction each year in the late spring. Ansel C. Martin, the school’s Choir Director, arranged all the vocal scores. The minstrels is recognized as one of the nation’s first high school performing arts programs. The curtain closed on the last performance on May 8, 1965 when Smittie retired from teaching. It initially ran for 6 nights always drawing sell out crowds in excess of 2,000 people per performance while running three hours without intermission. In 1966 the Sounds of Withrow replaced the Minstrels under the direction of band director Don Lackey. Sounds of Withrow continued until 1984.
Soroities and fraternities were first officially recognized in 1950 and then banned in 1963. The band room, behind the auditorium, was completed in 1958. In 1963 Student Council established an outside smokng lounge for the students. Withrow teachers joined other CPS teachers on the picket lines in 1968 and 1977 for the only two strikes in CPS history.
City engineers condemned the bridge as unsafe in 1980, but the Friends of Withrow coordinated the effort to raise $150,000 for its restoration. The restored bridge was rededicated in 1982 in honor of Nora Mae Nolan, a former English teacher. That led to the establishment of the Friends of Withrow in 1985. In 1995 that organization transitioned into Withrow Alumni, Inc. A second restoration of the bridge was completed in 2011 at a cost of $130,000 with $50,000 being provided by the Alumni. In 1983 Withrow was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An example of the historic nature of the building is reflected in the Rookwood fountain, outside the auditorium, which was donated by Richard K. Leblond in 1920.
In 1998 an Alumni museum was opened in a classroom on the first floor of the south wing. In 2005 it moved into what had been the school library up until that time. At the same time a college career center was established and located in the Alumni room. It too moved to the old library in 2005 and was there until it ceased operations after 2012 when the Withjrow staff assumed those responsibilities. The library was moved to a new media center in what had been the business center. After the renovations of 2006 – 2007 the cafeteria was moved to the old girls’ gym and the kitchen was established in the old middle gym. In the old boys’ gym the track and seating were removed and new seating installed on one side. That gym is now used for gym class and practices. At that time the old library officially became the Holwadel Alumni center.
The pools were closed in the 1990’s because they did not meet required health standards and were filled in during the school year 2005-2006. 1969 – 1970 was the last school year for the Junior High, with the construction of Peoples Junior High (at the site that is now Clark Montessori High School). The cafeteria was moved to this building in the 1970 – 71 school year and a business center was set up in the old cafeteria. The outside appearance of Withrow changed very little over the years until the completion of the vocational building in 1974. Part of this renovation was the construction of a “bridge” building that connected the old Junior High with the main building. In the fall and winter of 2006-2007 the old Junior High, the boiler room and the vocational ed “bridge” building were removed to provide additonal parking. A $43 million renovation of the entire school took place 2006 – 2007. The Withrow Alumni Association donated $500,000 which produced $5,000,000 in interest free bonds which kick started the construction of the new gym. Check out Withrow before and after the restoration by clicking HERE.
The new Gym was completed in 2006 with the first Withrow home basketball games held on campus since 1976. The facility holds 1,500 people. A fitness center with state of the art equipment and a weight room were established off the the old tunnel above what use to be the boys swimming pool. These facilities are not only used by the athletes but by all the students who must participate in the mandatory two years of gym class. Each student has a personal goal they must monitor. The Alumni provide funding for maintaining the fitness center and weight room. The new band room is also off of the old tunnel (above the boys swimming pool). The alumni also support the band. There are now only two marching bands in all of CPS (Withrow and Walnut Hills). The new synthetic football field was donated by the Cincinnati Bengals ($250,000). There is a new score board, new lights (lights were first installed in the stadium in 1965) and new track (also available for community use). A new synthetic football field and track were installed in 2015, again paid for by the Bengals. The wrought iron gates at the entrance to the stadium were relocated from the entrance to the old Junior High. As part of the MLB all-star game in Cincinnati in 2015, MLB and the Reds provided $500,000 for the installation of a new baseball (boys) and sotfball (girls) field each with their own scoreboard. The baseball field was dedicated to Withrow grad and Reds Hall of Fame player Ron Oester (’74). The Alumni contributed $42,000 toward the total cost. The fields and tennis courts are rented to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission for $1 per year and Withrow and Clark Montessori High School use the fields and CRC uses them during non-school hours/functions and they maintain them.
In the school year 2002-2003 Withrow opened with three schools. The University School as a college preparatory school with 200 ninth graders, The International School (offering an International Baccalaureate degree – one of only three schools in Ohio offering IB at that time) for all four years and the Traditional School for 10th through 12th grades. Each subsequent year, the University School added a class and the Traditional School lost a class. In the school year of 2011-2012 the remaining two schools were combined and named Withrow University High School. After an absence of forty plus years, the 2013-14 school year once again saw the presence of 7th and 8th graders on the Withrow campus. In 2016 the Alumni recovered the old Junior High wrough iron sign (removed in 1972). It was restored and installed on brick columns that mimic the original brick columns that it rested on. it was installed at the rear entrance to the Junior High wing of the north building. The Alumni paid the $14,000 cost of this project.
In 2013 a Health Clinic was opened in the school to not only serve Withrow students but to serve other east side CPS schools and qualifying residents. It is operated and funded by the Cincinnati Health Department. In 2015 a Dental Clinic was opened in the old choir room to serve the same patients and is also operated and funded by the Health Department. The Alumni dontaed $3,000 toward the $75,000 cost of the project. In 2014 Withrow joined the Eastern Cincinnati (athletic) Conference.
Vince Stitzel (’59), Jack Cover (’59), Dave Blocksom (’68), Bob Linnenberg (’64), Bob Martin (’63)
East High School “Annuals”
Withrow High School “Annuals”
The “Tower News”
Violet R. Balastra
James T. Crawford