Photo courtesy Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
When the Gragg School opened in 1941, it was considered quite an innovation — the first poured monolithic (meaning: cast as one solid piece) concrete school building in the entire state.
Located at 3552 Jackson, it also included such high-tech features as sound-proofing and individual heating units for each classroom. With its gleaming white facade (years ago painted a rather dismal shade of grey), it certainly stood out from the traditional red-brick schools elsewhere in the city and county.
The new school replaced a ramshackle wooden structure that stood on the same site for almost 40 years, and it took a lot of hard work from the Union Villa Civic Club, very active in that neighborhood in those years, to convince the Shelby County Board of Education that their kids needed a better place to learn. Yes, I said county, for back then this stretch of Jackson was outside the city limits.
According to an old Memphis Press-Scimitar article, the school was named in honor of Dr. W.H. Gragg, a prominent member of that community.
The school was quite a showplace for almost four decades, eventually handling grades 1 through 12, but as the demographics of the neighborhood changed, the board of education decided it was no longer needed. Gragg closed in 1980, and in recent years the building has housed the Memphis City Schools Technology Training Center.
Gragg Street and, just one block away, Villa Street preserve the name of the school and the civic organization that fought so hard to build it.