The striking architecture of Baltimore's original Dunbar High School complements the school's role in community empowerment and educational equality. Dunbar's educators, students, and alumni worked to achieve the "equal" in the "separate but equal" doctrine that shaped Baltimore's school system for more than half of the twentieth century.
Construction began on the Art Deco school building in 1931, providing a new junior high school for African American students in segregated Baltimore. Named after famed African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the school was designed by Baltimore architecture firm Taylor & Fisher. The four-story, L-shaped school features elements of Art Deco design typical of the firm's other works, including downtown Baltimore's Baltimore Trust Building (now the Bank of America Tower).
Dunbar Junior High School, PS 133, opened its doors in February 1932. In 1935, tenth grade was added, making the PS 133 the second African American high school in the city. Over the next four decades, the school was more than a place for learning. During the years of segregation it served as a community and recreational center serving both children and adults. From professional concerts to dances for returning servicemen, PS 133 stood as a center of pride for the Dunbar-Broadway neighborhood.
the late 1930s, Dunbar's enrollment greatly exceeded capacity. Outdated portable classrooms were installed in 1939, but by 1944 these temporary structures were in poor condition. The school board ignored the overcrowding and inappropriate conditions, prompting Dunbar's teachers to take action and bring their concerns directly to Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin. The assertive action by the Dunbar teachers led to a citywide renovation of the portable classroom and a new addition to the school, completed in 1950.
Dunbar provided a quality education to generations of students, and nurtured their talents through academics, sports, and the arts. The school's history of civic engagement is reflected in the careers of many alumni: lawyers, judges, doctors, and elected officials at all levels of government. Countless graduates of Dunbar are leaders in the civic, business, and sports communities—many breaking the color barrier present in their chosen profession.
The school served as a junior and high school until 1974, when the current Dunbar High School opened at Orleans Street and North Central Avenue. PS 133 served as the Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School until 2010. Today the school is home to the National Academy Foundation High School.
(Inscription under the image in the upper right) A relief sculpture of an owl, a traditional symbol of learning, is featured
on the school's tower. The owl is surrounded by chevrons, sunbursts, and geometric patterns typical of Art Deco styling.
Ronald Mumin Owens-Bey, Chair, Landmark Committee. The Dunbar Alumni Association, Inc., Sponsor-Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor. Baltimore City Landmark, Baltimore National Heritage Area