|City/Town: • Birmingham
|Location Class: • Educational
|Built: • 1957 | Abandoned: • 2006
|Status: • Demolished
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit
Plans for what was to become Banks High School were approved in 1955, although to the disapproval of some members of the community. The Old College Station Community Betterment Club wrote to the school board with concerns about the increase in traffic, lack of sidewalks, and the area’s rough terrain which would make it difficult for the development of athletic fields, parking lots, and later expansions. They also objected to the plans as the surrounding properties were owned by African-Americans who did not wish to sell their homes and did not feel they should “thrust themselves” upon them. Since the land for the school and the neighboring South East Lake Elementary School had already been purchased and plans drawn by Warren, Knight & Davis architects, the board moved forward with its plans despite the opposition.
Originally called South East Lake High School, L. Frazier Banks High School opened in 1957 and at first, only accepted freshmen. Named after former superintendent L. Frazier Banks, the school occupied six buildings with a total capacity of 1,192. The school’s design addressed the area’s terrain by stretching out along a contour with a string of one-story classroom pavilions connected by covered walkways. The school’s main building contained an auditorium, lunchroom, and offices with a gymnasium located on the far side of the property.
The school’s athletic teams in the 1960-61 season won the Birmingham city football, basketball, and baseball championships. In the Fall of 1961, the Alabama Air National Guard donated to the school an F-86D Sabre fighter jet which was a relic of the Korean War. The plane was painted in the school colors of Columbia blue and scarlet and was installed as a mascot dubbed the “Sabre Dog” on the entrance to Banks High School. Rival high schools in the Birmingham area often repainted the jet with their own school colors before big football games. That same year, George “Shorty” White became the head football coach for Banks High School and remained there until 1974, a season which featured the legendary showdown against Woodlawn High School in front of 42,000 at Legion Field. In 1972 and 1973, he led the Banks High School Jets to consecutive 4A state football championships and also coached in the first integrated game in the city against Parker High School in 1969. He left Banks High School after accepting a job as an assistant football coach under Paul “Bear” Bryant for the Alabama Crimson Tide football teams.
The last graduating class of Banks High School was in 1989 where students going into the 1989-1990 school year were given the option to go to either Woodlawn or Huffman High Schools. The following year, Banks was converted into a middle school under the direction of Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds. As a middle school, Banks fed into Woodlawn High School. In October 2006, the Birmingham Board of Education heard a recommendation from the new superintendent of schools Stan Mims to close Banks Middle School and transfer its students to the new Ossie Ware Mitchell School. The recommendation was approved, with students transferring during the 2006 Christmas break.
After the school’s closure, Banks High School alumni worked on finding a new home for their beloved mascot, formulating a plan with the Southern Museum of Flight. With the cooperation of the Birmingham Board of Education and the State of Alabama, ownership of the aircraft was transferred to the museum. In June 2007, with the help of Alabama Power, CraneWorks Corporation, Daniel Metals Corporation, the Birmingham Police Department, Banks High School alumni, and Southern Museum of Flight staff and volunteers, the jet was removed from the school’s rooftop and transported by truck to the museum. Over the next several years, museum staff and volunteers spent countless hours restoring the jet to its original military configuration. The “Sabre Dog” was formally dedicated on November 2, 2013, and is on display at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham.
Banks Academy was founded in 2015 by Banks High School graduates Ginger Griffin Burkett, Randy Overstreet, and Ben Deloach along with Darryl White, Shorty White’s youngest son. Daryl White graduated from Tuscaloosa High School after his father accepted a job as an assistant coach at the University of Alabama. Banks Academy started football in 2019, using the same colors and mascot as its namesake with head coach Riley White, the grandson of Shorty White.
In the following years after the school’s closure, multiple requests for proposals were sent out by the city with the intention of attracting private developers to renovate and repurpose the blighted campus. After several years of yielding no offers from developers, the Birmingham City Council made the decision to demolish the former Banks Middle School scheduled for July 2021. Demolition commenced on July 6, 2021.