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Charles W. Shea Senior High School (Pawtucket West High School)

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Pawtucket West High School
1938–1939, John F. O'Malley. 485 East Ave.

This ambitious school design in the Moderne manner (as it was then called, or Art Deco, as it is more usually known today) is one of two ambitious civic designs in the same style which cap O'Malley's career (see PA16). In limestone and yellow brick, trimmed with green glazed brick, the school sits high above the street. Its three symmetrically ordered entrances, at the recessed center and the projecting ends of the building, are entered by flights of stairs connected by terracing and tied to their embankment by an elaboration of retaining walls in a composition of cubes which extend the cuboid embellishment of the building. This cast stone parapeting provides surfaces for what may well be a record number of inspirational and exhortatory quotations—so numerous that inscription approaches graffiti. More messages are scattered on the building, together with charming reliefs of student life around the entrance and under the cornice—while across the frieze the five virtues of Determination, Ambition, Effort, Activity, and Endurance seem unfairly pitted against the six vices of Disaster, Insolence, Indifference, Lawlessness, Carelessness, and Fear. A belated but fine example of Moderne built under the Public Works Administration program, this dates from the time when the style had itself become an establishment means of endowing public buildings with the kind of forward-looking optimism which the inscriptions make explicit. The entrance hall and auditorium also retain their Moderne treatment.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Charles W. Shea Senior High School (Pawtucket West High School)", [Pawtucket, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 139-139.

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