The Mural on Southwest High School

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South Kingshighway Blvd & Arsenal
South St. Louis, MO

Found it!
Well, kind of.

The 1964 addition of the former Southwest High School (now the Central Visual/Performing Arts High School) once sported a notorious mural. A portion of its lush exoticism can be seen above.  The mural was an identifier – of a neighborhood, of an area and a great marker when giving driving directions.  Shortly after the public school became a magnet in the mid 2000s, they painted over the mural with a dull dark brown that attempted to mimic the brick. The irony of quashing vivid artistic expression on the wall of a creative arts institution was not lost on anyone.

Once the public art was gone, folks like myself who track the built environment started looking through our files to find any pictures we may have taken of the mural. I know I have a full-on shot of it from the mid-1990s because I used to live across the street from the place, and remember walking over to it, purposely to document the mural. For those of you who spent decades shooting film, you also know you have boxes upon boxes of photographs, and who has the time to sift through all that? But it’s been bugging me for far too many years: where’s that mural photo?

While looking for something else, I ran across this photograph. Because of the concert poster in the bus stop shelter (also known, briefly, as a Cher Chapel), the photo was taken in the early summer of 2002. This brief glimpse of the Southwest High School mural removes finding the better photo from my To Do list. Well, kind of.

If any of you know the origins of the mural and the decision to blot it out, please do share in the Comments.

Jim Wirt was one of the students who helped paint the mural, dating it back to 1983. And thanks to Michael Allen for passing along this post with black & white photos of the mural.

11 thoughts on “The Mural on Southwest High School

  1. I am a Southwest graduate, but years befor the mural was there. I believe that my friend, Charles Wones, was the art teacher at Southwest and was the man who thought of the mural, worked on the design and led the project.

  2. My grandfather lived on Kemper Av. just across the street from there, and I can remember when it was painted he HATED it. He was a man of “colorful” language and had a lot of “colorful” words to say about it…

  3. As a graduate of that high school in 1971, I can tell you that it WAS universally hated by all graduates of that school previous to its painting. We were all happy to see it go. Mr. Wirt, the school mascot was not a pirate, it was a Longhorn.

  4. I used to know a woman who was one of the mentors of the painting project. Her last name was Ivcich.

  5. Thank you for this photo! my mom used to work there as the typing/business teacher. Her name is Mrs. Windom.

  6. I am going to have to see if my parents have this image anywhere in their photographs since my Aunt and Uncle went to that high school. I remember that mural as a kid driving past it with my Grandma to visit the Famous Barr. I loved that mural and truly sad to hear that it was painted over…..

  7. I believe that the title of the mural was, indeed, “Nouveau Rousseau”.

  8. I remember one of the “controversies” was the purported presence of a marijuana leaf in the mural. How stupid can you get? Anyway, ’twas indeed a moronic decision to paint over this mural. It was the product of student artists and should have remained as a legacy of their time there. I’m not a big fan of painting brick, but as a project to raise school spirit and enhance the learning experience, and perhaps emphasize the school’s proximity to Shaw’s Garden, I think this was an entirely appropriate subject and location for this mural. Now it’s just an ugly brown corner, with the school officials and others abusing their office by parking on the sidewalk in front of the building. Classy.

  9. My father grew up in that neighborhood and as a child I spent loads of time in the tower grove south neighbor hood. I am talking late 70s to early 80’s. That area had change a lot since then. There are a lot of young couples with new families now but then it was a lot of older folks who were pretty conservative. From my experience that mural was universally hated. I don’t think my grandparents were against the arts or anything but they thought that sort of thing was not appropriate for the entrance of a building. After all of these years I kind of still agree and I am all for the arts and not a conservative at all. It was a cool mural but everything has its place. Thanks

  10. Interesting fact: I actually painted a piece of this mural. It was part of an art collective project with various schools in the area, and since I was representing Pattonville High School I, along with a few others painted a pirate (the school mascot logo), and some exotic vines. That was in 1983. Alas, I do not have any pictures of the wall in my own collection. Thanks for the post, it brought back some good memories!

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