older picture of school and auditorium

 
 
Early Histiory of RJ Reynolds High School
and
The Richard J Reynolds Memorial Auditorium
 
 

At a 8 PM called meeting on July 3, 1919, of theWinston-Salem Board of Alderman, Katharine Smith Reynolds (widow of R.J.Reynolds) gave $50,000 to go towards the purchase and improvement of a 45-acre tract of land called “Silver Hill”. This site would be where the City would build its new high school, and where Mrs. Reynolds would build an auditorium (if it were considered a memorial to, and named for, her deceased husband).  Both of these requests were approved by the Board that evening. The total cost of the Auditorium was planned to be $394,000, and an additional $100,000 was to be provided by the Reynolds estate for interior decoration and equipment.


During that same Board of Aldermen meeting, Mr. P.H. Hanes, along with his brother (John W. Hanes), donated a 75 acre tract of land (which used to be P.H. Hanes' farm) to be used as a park. The value of the land was estimated to be $250,000.
 
This land was to be owned and used by the City as a site for school buildings, playgrounds and park purposes. Today this is known as Hanes Park. (Wiley Middle School and its gymnasium, along with what is now known as the Herman Bryson Gymnasium, and RJR's girls gymnasium were later constructed on this land).  To read the minutes from this Board of Aldermen meeting, click here ( * ).

 

The preliminary plans for Hanes Park included a six-acre lake (fed by three streams)...to be built below the Glade Street bridge for boating, swimming, and ice skating.  The park land was accessible by railroad, streetcar, and automobile...and the street beside Hanes Park (from Glade Street to Brookstown Road) was to be widened to seventy feet…broad enough for cars to park along the curb to watch athletic events. Other features were a race track, a football field, tennis courts, and a baseball field. The newspaper announcement of these plans called for this to be “the grandest park south of Washington, DC.”


When combined, these two gifts (from Mrs. Reynolds and theHanes families) were the 3rd largest gift from private  individuals to a public school system in the history of our nation!
 
Later in 1919, the City overwhelmingly passed a bond referendum for $800,000 (half of which went to construct R.J. Reynolds High School). The original plans called for two school buildings…one on either side of the Auditorium. The Household Arts and Industrial Arts Building would be built at the completion of the construction of the Auditorium and the first school building (referred tp as the Academic Art Building).

A little bit about Winston-Salem at that time…
Because the population of the city more than doubled between1910 and 1920, and Winston-Salem was (in 1920) the state’s largest and most prosperous city, there was a big demand for new school buildings (throughout the city for students of all ages…and at that time there were two school systems in Forsyth County:  one in Winston-Salem, and one for the rest of the County). To meet that city-wide need, and to keep a control on the debt load of the taxpayers, the second building at Reynolds High School was never constructed.

Reynolds Tobacco Company was doing very well, and back then, it was a very labor intensive business. The Hanes companies were doing well, and they were labor intensive businesses. People from the surrounding areas and counties moved to Winston-Salem to get jobs here.

At the beginning of 1923, Winston-Salem had 2 high schools (one for what were considered “white” students and one for what were considered“colored” students). On January 9th, 1923, fire destroyed the Winston High School (located on Cherry Street), which accommodated the “white” students.

Six days later, on January 15th, these students transferred to the 2nd floor of the Academic Arts Building, where they utilized twenty classrooms that had been completed. (This building, when completed, was designed to accommodate 1,200 students in 60 rooms for classes and administration). Students began a full-time schedule in February (when the cafeteria was completed).
 
Below is a picture of a bronze plaque in the front "lobby" of the school (on the first floor).
 
plaque in lobby at RJR

One year later, in May of 1924, an $800,000 bond referendum was overwhelmingly passed, to pay for the construction of four new schools, as well as a gymnasium for Reynolds High School on the Hanes Park property.

Once the gymnasium construction was completed, the physical plant of R.J. Reynolds High School made it the third largest public high school campus in the nation!  The Richard J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in May of 1924 (in a 4-day celebration, between May 8 –May 11).

Katharine Smith Reynolds never saw the completed building.  She had by that time re-married (to J. Edward Johnston, from New York City, in 1921), and thus was Katharine Smith Reynolds Johnston. She was warned not to become pregnant, as she suffered form conjunctive heart failure. However, she did become pregnant, and during the Auditorium’s Grand Opening ceremonies she was in New York City, under the care of child-birth specialists. She died on May 24th giving birth to their son.

Katharine’s dreams for future usage of the Auditorium were:

1.         To showcase accomplishments of public school students

2.         For civic ormemorial occasions
3.         For religious programs
4.         For musical and cultural programs featuring renowned artists.



Recent Renovations of RJ Reynolds Memorrial Auditorium
 
After forty years or so, public buildings that get a lot of use (such as the Auditorium) have to be renovated. The first renovation was completed in the early 1960’s.
 
In 2002, the Auditorium underwent another major renovation. This was overseen by donations totaling $6.2 million solicited and received by “The Friends of Richard J. Reynolds Auditorium” organization….which at the time was chaired by Nick Bragg…who personally oversaw every aspect of the comprehensive renovation.

Shortly after that,  Harry Corpening assumed the role of Chair of “Friends.”   The “Friends” Board of Trustees made the determination that they would do those things that would increase the rental of that great hall.  In 2006, they funded the creation and installation of an orchestra pit cover (which brought about the booking of four very popular annual Pops Concerts by the Winston-Salem Symphony).

They then found that to book any renown musical group, the Auditorium would need to have a customized acoustical shell. An acoustics firm in South Norwalk, CT was contacted (per guidance from Bob Moody, the Music Director of the Winston-Salem Symphony), and that firm came back with a quote of $259,800 for the design, creation and installation of the acoustical shell. The Board went about raising those funds.

 

After having raised $110,000, Harry Corpening asked Dr. Don Martin (of theWinston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board)  if “Friends”  could market the naming rights of the (at that time) newly constructed building (directly behind the Auditorium) for $150,000…with the understanding that those monies would go towards this acoustical shell.
 

Dr.Martin asked the School Board, and they agreed to this idea (with the stipulation that an additional $30,000 be given to the school, for programming needs of the students presently using this building). “Friends” agreed to these terms.  Mr. Corpening then went about looking for people to talk to about this naming opportunity, and his long-time friend Jim Holmes, III was the second person he contacted.


Jim suggested that the Board  raise the funds needed by naming the building (which was then merely referred to as The Arts & Education Building)  for his deceased first-cousin (who was a member of Mr. Corpening’s  Class of 1968 at RJR):   Judy Voss Jones.

The Board very much liked that idea.  During this time the Federal Government issued a $1.5 million H.U.D. grant making Reynolds High School an Arts Magnet High School.  There was a line-item in that grant sending $30,000 towards the acquisition of an accoustical  shell. This $30,000 became the monies the School Board wanted for the programming needs of the students using the Judy Voss Jones Arts Center (as the "Friends" organization raised all the other needed funds).
 
To see a pdf file with the "Dedication of the Richard J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium" program (May 8 - 11, 1924),
click here ( * ).
 
 
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