Mini-Flood 30: Grand Center Arts Academy

GCAA10

photograph by Amanda Krebel

Designed originally to house the Carter Carburetor company, a historic and beautiful structure along north Grand Avenue is now the location for the Grand Center Arts Academy. GCAA combines a rigorous academic approach with a focus on the arts (visual and performing).

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photograph by Michael Matney

GCAA11

photograph by Kelly Burchett

GCAA06

photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

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photograph by Sue Rakers

Before Grand Center Arts Academy was even a thought, the Carter Carburetor Company was long a bastion of St. Louis’ industrial mechanism. Construction of the two buildings that now house the school was begun in 1925, and functioned thereafter as the corporate headquarters for the Company. Carter Carburetors were world famous, in terms of their engineering, finding their way into vehicles ranging widely from U.S. Army Jeeps to Porsches. Demand was so strong that the Company also maintained a massive manufacturing complex and foundry (pictured below), shortly up Grand from its headquarters, in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The company became obsolete in the early 1980’s with the introduction of fuel injection systems, a process of deterioration almost as quick as their rise to prominence. The manufacturing complex closed shortly thereafter, ending employment for nearly 3,000 workers. The former industrial building is now an Environmental Protection Agency “Superfund site”, substantially contaminated by solvents and coolants used in the industrial process.

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former Carter Carburetor industrial complex, photograph by Mandi Gray

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photograph by Amanda Krebel

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photograph by Donna Burch

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photograph by Dawn Moss

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

Manufacturing empire aside, the lasting legacy of the Carter Carburetor Company is the two buildings comprising its former corporate headquarters. The larger of the two was built for the Knights of Pythias, a secret fraternal society, as their meeting place. It is said to have been constructed to resemble a castle, which is how the organization’s meeting lodges were originally referred, as “Pythian Castles”. The order was founded in 1864, by Justus Rathbone, a musician, actor and school teacher, with the aim of healing “the wounds of the Civil War between the North and South and [to] promote friendship among men and relieve suffering” (according to the Society’s website). Today, the Knights of Pythias is a supporting partner of the Boy Scouts of America. Given that Rathbone was a musician, actor and teacher, who stressed friendship and benevolence, it is fitting that the building constructed for his organization should now be a school for the arts.

The second of the two buildings was added by Carter Carburetor, and possesses strong art deco exterior qualities and a lushly ornamented lobby.

Both buildings were retrofitted in 2010 by the Lawrence Group to house the Grand Center Arts Academy.

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photograph by Michelle Williams

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Susan Price

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photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

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photograph by Michelle Bates

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photograph by Allen Casey

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photograph by Michelle Williams

Although the GCAA has only been active for a few short years, it is already a treasured asset to both the educational and cultural communities of St. Louis. The School, a charter sponsored by Saint Louis University, serves grades 6 through 12 with a rounded curriculum that stresses academics, arts, community and social justice. In addition to classes offered by typical schools (like math, science, social studies, etc.), the Grand Center Arts Academy is a college preparatory program that encourages students to focus on an art discipline. Beginning in 6th grade, students are exposed to a wide range of arts offerings, but by 9th or 10th grade begin to hone in on what will become their “major”. Current majors offered include visual art, dance, theatre arts, and music. The facilities at GCAA are top-notch, but are nonetheless, continuously being improved. This is a testament to the sincerity and dedication of the school’s teachers, administrators and community partners. In addition to classroom instruction, students are introduced to the many cultural offerings throughout the city via field trips and artist visits.

No doubt, as the Grand Center Arts Academy continues its impressive momentum, it will likely be recognized throughout the Midwest as one of the leading arts-focused secondary schools (if it is not already).

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photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

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photograph by Michelle Williams

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photograph by Andy Holman

GCAA01

photograph by Sarah-Marie Land

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