Almost a century ago, South Side School was built to meet the growing population demands resulting from the South Florida land boom. Developed in 1922, both South Side School and West Side Grade School opened their doors for the first time in 1923. South Side found itself right smack in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Around the corner was the South Side Fire Station built in 1925, and the Coca Cola Building would pop-up later in 1938. The cluster of these iconic buildings contribute to this intersection being one of the rare historic spots left in town.
South Side School was designed by local architect John Petermen as an 11,000 square foot, two-story Masonry Mediterranean revival building. The structure had Pubelo inspired decorative elements, and was a classic example of a mission-style schoolhouse. Fort Lauderdale was stamped out of the untamed everglades and was a relatively new and growing community at the time. Still, education and a forum to preserve the sanctity of knowledge was a priority then, and has endured as a guiding beacon through the years.
In the 1920s, the City of Fort Lauderdale began managing the land adjacent to the school as a park. The 1930s brought the H.C. Davis Baseball Field in the southwest corner of the property, followed by tennis courts, shuffleboard courts and lawn bowling. The school eventually closed in 1967, but the building remained open to emotionally and physically disabled children well into the early 90s.
The City of Fort Lauderdale acquired the building in 2004, the same year Friends of South Side was formed as a nonprofit advocating for the preservation, renovation, and transformation of this historic site into a community based cultural arts center. Discussions determining the best future use of the facility were ongoing for years. The existence of South Side Cultural Arts Center is a testament to the stubborn patience and sheer determination of those who kept showing up to the public forums and meetings over the years. After a long period of neglect, the multi-million, multi-phase rehabilitation was finally complete and the marvel that is South Side Cultural Arts Center was officially open in January 2018.
The careful craftsmanship, cultural arts design features, and modern amenities make this venue an unparalleled force to be reckoned with in Fort Lauderdale. The City of Fort Lauderdale's Parks and Recreation department continued to operate the adjacent park land throughout the years, and Florence C. Hardy Park is viewed as one of the City's best parks today. As such, the Parks and Rec Department maintained their ties to the property over the years and is presently responsible for the upkeep and operations for both Florence C. Hardy Park and South Side Cultural Arts Center. In fact, the entire 2nd floor of South Side Cultural Arts Center is utilized as office space for the Department's personnel. Visitors and locals agree that South Side is greatly enhanced by to its proximity to the updated amenities, covered playground, athletic fields, and 7+ acres of the adjacent Florence C. Hardy park.
Friends of South Side still contends that South Side School has the capacity to be a Cultural Arts Center powerhouse. But don't take our word for it. Stop by to see the conversion yourself. The 1st floor is free and open to the public for exploring, unless classrooms are being otherwise utilized for private parties or regular programming. Hurry up and take a yoga class, attend a cooking workshop, or do whatever it takes to explore this incredible venue!