Thomas Jefferson High School is located in northwest San Antonio, Texas. The school occupies 33 acres adjacent to the intersection of Wilson Boulevard and Donaldson Avenue. It is named for Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, founder of the University of Virginia, and main author of the Declaration of Independence.
The original acreage was part of a development established in the late twenties known as Montrose and then as Spanish Acres. The site was originally planned for the location of a golf course and a luxury hotel, the El Conquistador. In addition to the hotel a crescent-shaped lake and tennis courts were proposed.
In 1929 the San Antonio Independent School District found their two high schools Brackenridge High and Main Avenue High (now Fox Tech) overcrowded. Due in part to the poor conditions at Main Avenue, the idea of building a new northside school was born. Later that year the citizens of San Antonio passed a $3,700,000 school bond proposal. The new high school was to cost $1,500,000. This would make Jefferson High School the first million dollar high school in the United States. This was $1,100,000 dollars more than the New Harlandale High School built the previous year in South San Antonio.
The current site was purchased for $94,588. The site and the surrounding area at the outskirts of northwest San Antonio was nothing more than hay fields and overgrown lots. Due to the depression and World War II there would be no significant building adjacent to the school until the late 1940s. Some individuals critical of the location of the school felt the site was so far away from populated areas that unless a student lived in Boerne, he or she would not be able to attend school.
After the purchase of the site, the school board chose the architectural firm of Adams and Adams to design the school. Carleton Adams chose associate architect Max C. Frederick to design the school. Frederick is also credited with the design of the school’s coat of arms which appears on each side to the tallest tower.
Frederick chose to utilize the Spanish Colonial Revival style in the design of the school. However, one can see Moorish and Aztec influences as well. The main entry is the most highly decorated portion of the building and epitomizes the use the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The three round-arched entry doors are set into a portico formed by four square columns with matching pilasters which are heavily decorated with low relief sculpture of stylized foliage. Topping the third floor of the entry are two domed towers, the west one taller than the eastern one. The relief sculptures around the school were created by an Italian born sculptor, Hannibal Pianta. Pianto is credited with work in the Empire and Aztec theaters.
The auditorium, foyer, and library are exceptional architectural spaces. The auditorium is truly a theater, housing a stage with an ornate 50’ wide x 28’ high proscenium arch. Stenciled ceiling tiles adorn the ceilings of each of these spaces. The foyer and library sport large wooden beamed ceilings. The library also has numerous plaster details of Aztec and Mayan influence.
The door hardware throughout the school consists of brass escutcheons and swirling brass door pulls. Doors and trim are of stained oak.
The school opened its doors on February 1, 1932. The following year 1200 students would attend Jefferson High. By 1957 the population of the school grew to more than 3000 (with no freshmen class). This growth prompted the construction of the “new wing” in 1963. Over the years several other buildings have been added to the campus to include a girl’s gym, band hall, and field house. In 2005 a fine arts building was added to the campus and in 2008 a JROTC building was opened.