OGDEN — The first time Lucille Brizzee caught a glimpse of Ogden High School, she realized the striking Harrison Boulevard monument was her destiny.
It was the 1980s and Brizzee was looking for a teaching job after graduating from Brigham Young University. The Idaho native knew little about Ogden and was even less familiar with the school she would later call home for 30 years.
“I’d never really been to Ogden — I might have passed through once or twice when I was young, but I‘d never really seen it,” she said. “I got this call about interviewing for a job opening (at Ogden High), so I went up there.”
“I was driving along Harrison and I just kind of got the feeling that this was it, this was where I was going to teach,” she said. “When I saw that building it was like, wow. That’s not your typical high school. It was like a cathedral.”
The 2017-2018 school year marks the 80th anniversary of Ogden High School at its current east Ogden location.
The business and marketing teacher’s awe for the Art Deco edifice isn’t uncommon.
“It’s just a gorgeous structure,” said Bonnie Galbraith, a former Tiger and volunteer at the Weber County Heritage Foundation. “It’s a gathering place, it’s a piece of history and it’s just something that for years has contributed to Ogden’s sense of community.”
Construction on the school was finished in 1937 for nearly $1.2 million. It was built under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency that employed millions of people to complete public works projects like the construction of public buildings and roads.
According to a Utah Heritage Foundation historical profile of the school, Ogden High was the first million-dollar high school built in the United States and “many taxpayers protested the building of such a lavish educational facility.”
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Though some residents may have complained about them 80 years ago, Ogden High’s “lavish” features are at the heart of what makes the school unique.
“When I first started teaching, you still had all of the antique desks, the chairs,” Brizzee said. “So it was really like stepping back into time back then. But today you still have the marble walls, the amazing brick facade. There are still all of these small details in the design that make Ogden unlike any other school.”
The school was designed by local architects Leslie Hodgson and Myrl McClenahan.
The Standard-Examiner interviewed Hodgson’s granddaughter, Jeanine Downing, in 2014. She said her grandfather — who also designed city landmarks like the Peery's Egyptian Theater, the Eccles Building, the Ben Lomond Hotel, the Ogden Municipal Building and the U.S. Forest Service Building — considered the high school his crowning achievement.
“I think he was very proud of Ogden High,” Downing told the paper three years ago. “It put people to work and gave Ogden something to be proud of during a very difficult time.”
By the mid-2000s, some aspects of the school had become outdated and there was discussion about tearing it down to build a new facility.
In 2006, Ogden residents voted to fund a multimillion dollar bond that dealt with a variety of the community's school building needs, including those at Ogden High.
The renovation began in 2008 and was finished by 2012. Much of the nearly $80 million project was funded through private donations. The campaign was spearheaded by the Ogden School Foundation, with the Weber County Heritage Foundation playing a supporting role.
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The renovation included things like a new physical education building, cafeteria, gym and commons building; a new science and performing arts center; a restored and expanded library; and mechanical, electrical and structural upgrades.
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The school remained open during the four-year project.
“Any student or teacher who was here during that time had to be pretty resilient,” Brizzee said. “There was a lot of adjustments that had to be made during that time, but obviously it was worth it.”
Principal Luke Rasmussen began his tenure at the school in 2016. He said he’s been struck by how well students take care of the facility.
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“The kids really respect this building,” he said. “We don’t have problems with vandalism or anything like that. I think the building itself and the restoration kind of sets a certain tone, but the kids really have a sense of the history here and they understand why this is such an important building.”
Ogden High Junior Alexes Villicana is an example of what Rasmussen talks about. Villicana’s mother went to the school and he said he’s been taught from a young age to take pride in being a Tiger.
“It’s a brotherhood,” he said. “We take pride in being from Ogden High and the school itself is a big part of that. It’s a beautiful school and we’re the type of people who appreciate beauty. We take care of it because it’s ours.”