George Washington High School
George Washington High School opened on August 4, 1936 to serve as a secondary school for the people of San Francisco’s Richmond District. The school was built on a budget of $8,000,000, on a site overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The stadium, auditorium, and gymnasium were added in 1940. The school was formally dedicated on Armistice Day 1940.
The lobby is decorated with murals by Victor Arnautoff titled Life of Washington that were commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in 1936 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal projects for public buildings. A student of Diego Rivera, Arnautoff made the murals in the "buon fresco" style, depicting scenes from the life of George Washington. Intended to teach students about the realities of history, the murals include representations of Black slaves and white indentured servants on Washington's estate. Another mural criticizes the notion of Manifest Destiny and has been criticized for its allegorical depiction of a prostrate Native American. In June 2019, the school board voted to remove the murals.
"Mount Vernon" is a mural created by artist Victor Arnautoff in 1936 as part of the government-funded public art program during the Great Depression. Housed inside George Washington High School in San Francisco, this mural has been a source of controversy due to its critical interpretation of American history.
Arnautoff, a Russian-born artist and former assistant to Diego Rivera, chose to depict George Washington at Mount Vernon alongside slaves and Native Americans.
He incorporated provocative elements to underscore the contradictions in American history, highlighting Washington's role as a slave owner. This critical approach has sparked debates, with some viewing the work as a courageous denunciation of historical injustices, while others find it offensive.
Victor Arnautoff's "Mount Vernon" exemplifies art's ability to prompt deep discussions about history and society, emphasizing the tensions and ambiguities inherent in the construction of national identity.
Included in 'Multi-Ethnic Heritage' which consists of 3 murals, the center mural, called the Black Panel, has two men in the center, representing the spirit of African Americans, and how their strength and determination break the chain of bondage.
Also pictured in the mural are two of the most inspirational leaders in the late 1960s, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King and other prominent figures, from Frederick Douglas to Langston Hughes.
Modern and Ancient Science
Over the door of the library, this mural depicts on the left the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Robert Andrew Millikan, who is recognized for measuring the elementary electronic charge.
The center panel, apparently, represents Academy Award-winning actress Claudette Colbert, a popular French-born American actress of the 20s and 30s.
And the right panel show the Ancient Science.
Advancement of Learning Through the Printing Press
Resides on the east wall of the library.
In this mural you will find such as notables as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Junipero Serra, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Edgar Allan Poe.
Labaudt's intent was to give an expression of mankind's knowledge through the printed word by showing portraits of literary men, scientists, statesmen, and religious teachers, all grouped, with symbolic attributes surrounding the central figure of Gutenberg, patron saint of printed books.
Timothy Pflueger, a San Francisco architect from 1892 to 1946, defied conventions by embracing a bold modernist aesthetic influenced by various traditions. Despite challenges like the Depression and World War II, he left a lasting legacy in northern California with still-standing buildings.
His early talent emerged while working as a draftsman, leading to notable projects like Our Lady of the Wayside church.
The shift towards modern design culminated in the innovative Medical-Dental Office Building. In the 1930s, as part of Timothy L. Pflueger & Associates, he designed major public buildings, notably George Washington High School, showcasing a transition towards contemporary European modernism.
Pflueger's impact extended to the Golden Gate International Exposition and wartime projects, and his legacy lived on through his brother who took over the firm after his death in 1946.
Victor Arnautoff (1896-1979) was a Russian-American artist, painter, muralist, and educator. Born in Russia, he immigrated to the United States in 1925. Trained at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Arnautoff gained renown as a socially engaged artist, influenced by the Mexican muralist movement and Marxist ideas.
For his contribution to the murals at George Washington High School in San Francisco, Arnautoff created a series of frescoes titled "Life of Washington" in the 1930s. These murals sparked controversy due to their critical interpretation of American history. Arnautoff deliberately included scenes depicting George Washington with slaves and Native Americans to challenge the traditional narrative and underscore the social realities of the time.
One of the frescoes, titled "City Life," depicts San Francisco in the 1930s, highlighting social and economic inequalities of the era. These mural works have been restored and preserved, though they have continued to generate discussions about the interpretation of American history and the role of art in critical representation.