This one-time school campus has been converted into one of Delray’s coolest and most avant-garde arts destinations, home to a museum, musicals, and more.
When communities band together, beautiful things happen. Delray Beach’s Old School Square is one such example. In the mid-1980s, when the historic 1913 elementary and 1925 high school buildings in the heart of the city were facing demolition, the citizens rallied together to raise funds to not just save the buildings, but restore them into a community center. The result is a five-acre campus home to various historic buildings that house modern cultural attractions, including a fine art museum, free Friday night concerts, and Broadway musicals and plays. We profile the beautifully-restored twentieth-century buildings that each offer something different right in the center of town.
The Cornell Art Museum
Housed in the old 1913 Delray Elementary School, the museum shows innovative and provocative works by contemporary artists the world over. The installations, which range from walls of neon text to a room of delicate flowers hanging from the ceiling, are always compulsively ‘grammable. Along with the dynamic exhibitions, guests are treated to an architectural gem: The building features a masonry vernacular style (an architectural style specific to this section of Florida), floors made from pine harvested in Dade County, and a second-floor atrium which creates a light filled meeting area.
The Crest Theatre
Originally the auditorium of Delray High School, built in 1923, the Crest Theatre is now home to national Broadway tours, a cabaret series, and a lecture series that runs from January to April and discusses topics like technology’s effect on society. The 323-seat, state-of-the-art facility is also utilized for traveling shows like The Hit Men (five musicians and singers who, throughout the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in the music business) and Karla Bonoff (a legendary songwriter who has written for Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna Judd, and Lynn Anderson).
Creative Arts School
Right upstairs from the theatre, the Creative Arts School offers year-round classes on photography, drawing, watercolors, pastels, and writing. The classes range from beginner to master and are friendly to visitors of all ages. While the school offers ongoing classes, their one- and two-day workshops are nothing to scoff at. Lasting all day, these workshops can vary from layering acrylics to sessions hosted by visiting artists about how to curate your own art series.
The Fieldhouse was once its own building but was connected to the Crest Theatre’s backstage during renovation. The building, originally called the Vintage Gymnasium, isn’t used for athletics anymore but for special events like wedding receptions, community events, and holiday parties. The gymnasium holds some of its original charm like the names of previous students, chalkboard score board, and bleacher seating in the lofted “away” section. New additions to the site include an adjacent food preparation area and spacious restrooms where there were once locker rooms.
While most of the square is made up of Delray’s old school buildings, the Pavilion is brand new (comparatively). The outdoor performance area was built in the center of the square in 2002. The area was designed to accommodate large tented events and concerts, so the square could welcome festivals and larger events. You can now see Badfish, a Sublime tribute band, there every spring as well as some of the bands from the International Beatles on the Beach Festival, among others.