On April 30, members of the Las Vegas High School Alumni Association unveiled the Senior Squares Monument at Las Vegas Academy, 315 S. Seventh St., the former site of Las Vegas High School.
The Senior Squares at Las Vegas High School started out as what would now be called tagging or vandalism. In the spring of 1941, senior Robbie Robinson and some friends went out one night and painted a large square emblazoned with a “41” on the wide walkway leading to the school’s front steps.
Principal Maude Frazier called Robinson and his friends in to her office. Although they tried to deny their involvement, the fresh paint on the tops of their shoes said otherwise.
Frazier is remembered as a strict administrator but a tireless proponent of education, and she apparently recognized an opportunity to promote school spirit and graduating class pride, so the tradition of the Senior Squares began.
Well, almost. For the next four years, classes were a little small, due to most of the able-bodied young men shipping overseas to fight in World War II. The tradition began in earnest in 1946 and continued through 1988. Eventually, four memorial squares were designed for the missing war years by Betty Willis, class of ’41, best known as the designer of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
The squares were frequently repainted as thousands of feet walking over them wore down the art. Several painting and sealing solutions were tried. Eventually Rollie Gibbs, class of ’54 and president of the Las Vegas High School Alumni Association, came up with the solution of a vertical monument faced with smaller, tile representations of the squares.
“We raised $50,000 to build the monument, and that covered the building material,” Gibbs said. “All of the labor was donated for free by alumni and friends of alumni.”
The new monument allows people to see all the squares starting with the first simple “41” and continuing through more than 40 years of popular graphic art styles. Some of the squares were reproductions of that year’s yearbook cover. Standouts include the covered wagon of 1949, harkening back to the 49ers of a century earlier, 1979’s wildcat in a disco outfit and 1951’s nuclear blast.
“In 1953 they used a photo of a nuclear blast on the cover of the yearbook,” said Patty Haack, class of ’56 and secretary and treasurer of the alumni association. “That’s become a collectors’ item. There’s one on display at the (National) Atomic Testing Museum.”
Haack’s own graduating class’ Senior Square features a clock set at five minutes to 6 p.m. Haack said the clock image was chosen because the song “Rock Around the Clock” was popular that year.
The 1971 square features the torso of a young man holding a Coors beer can. Although the drinking age has been 21 in Nevada since prohibition was repealed, that was the image originally painted. Haack said the can was later repainted to be a Pepsi can. Before the last chipped and faded vestiges of the painted Senior Squares were scrubbed off a few weeks before the unveiling of the monument, it was a 7Up can.
The 1973 Senior Square features another long-running Las Vegas High School tradition and an inside joke. One corner has an image of Sir Herkimer’s Bone, the prize since 1957 in the annual Bone Game, a football rivalry between Las Vegas and Rancho high schools. The bone is an actual cow bone, originally spray-painted gold and since bronzed. The other corner features a carrot, an inside joke among some of the student body from that era.
“I told them when they were painting that carrot that 50 years later we’d have to be explaining it,” said Kathi Lilly-Schell, who was one of the organizers for the most recent class of ’73 reunion. “It was something the jocks called each other, meaning something like stupid or that you had your head in the sand.”
One mystery Haack would like to see revealed is why the Senior Squares tradition ended.
“They stopped doing them in 1988, but the school didn’t move until 1993,” Haack said. “Maybe they ran out of squares or maybe there was an administration change. It was a great tradition. I’m surprised it ended.”
For more information about the Las Vegas High School Alumni Association, visit lvhsaa.com.
Next up, an all-class reunion celebration is slated for Sept. 7 at The Orleans.
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.