Thursday, October 6, 2011

But Wait - There's More

Or maybe I should say that there's even less.

The search for information about my long gone elementary school - a search that led to the discovery of the recent demise of my sister's high school - is a search that also led to the discovery that my mother's elementary school (Chase) is gone now, too.

The elementary school that my sister attended (Fulton) is gone now as well.

What's even more startling is that the new Chase and the new Fulton schools that were built in the 1960s have also been torn down (or are about to be). Although both were constructed decades after my own elementary, they will have outlasted it by only 5 years.

My mother's high school - Woodward - has also been shutdown and is slated for destructed (if it isn't rubble already). Woodward was where both Danny Thomas and Jamie Farr went to school. It's the school whose yearbook (Saga) first introduced me to the way we Americans ritualistically commemorate our teenage years, complete with goofy drawings and signings from our peers. It's also the school that delineated the farthest eastern reaches of my young world as seen in the aerial photo that I posted on Jan 13. Although I was never inside, I walked there once as an 8th grader in order to take part in field and track competitions with my peers from across the city. The high school building immediately to the north of the track we used intrigued me far more than the outcome of our races. Although it was a rather plain building that impressed me more with its sheer size than with its architecture, sheer size *is* something. Plus Woodward was unique in having a giant polar bear mascot in front of it. I don't know why they ever chose the polar bear to represent them, but it lent a nice surreal touch to a local mascot arena dominated by cats and bulldogs.

Alas, all of that merely begins to describe the orgy of destruction that's been going on up north in my absence.

Start High School is gone now, too, despite being younger than I am. I was inside twice - once as a participant in a junior high school volleyball tournament that was held in its oh-so-modern gymnasium and once to pick up my bus card just before entering high school myself in 1973. My first college roommate graduated from Start. There have been times that I've thought I might have been better off going there myself. It's hard to believe that a building that always struck me as ultra-modern is gone now while the Macomber building - a factory-like product of the Great Depression - has somehow managed to endure....

Gone as well now is Rogers. And Bowsher (the last high school to be built before I left town and so the one I'll forever think of as the most modern). And apparently Oregon's Clay (which our chess team adviser seems to have somehow managed to get five of us back to Toledo from despite the darkness of the night, the iciness of the roads, the well-known dangers of the Corvair he was driving way too fast, and the distraction of David Bowe's "Fame" blaring from the radio).

Sherman and McKinley and Riverside elementary schools have all also either been destroyed or are about to be. Sherman was just half-a-block off the Cherry Street bus route and one of the landmarks I came to look for during my frequent rides. My cousins went there as well as to McKinley - one of the most unusually shaped schools I've ever seen. Riverside is where we 7th and 8th graders at Cherry were sent once a week for shop and home economics classes. It seems to have had at least one "exterior" window on the "wrong" side of the hallway, providing me with an unexpected view of another room....

According to one news source I found, some 20 public school buildings in Toledo have been torn down in the last 10 years. Most of them seem to have been torn down in just the last five, victims of the awful economy, budget crises, population decline, and - I suspect - the Republican war on public education. Although some of the buildings I've mentioned have been replaced by newer structures on or near the same sites, these mostly single story econo-boxes by and large don't have even half the aesthetic appeal of their predecessors. (One of the teachers at the new Woodward admitted as much in one story I found.)

I understand the need for change. I realize that nothing lasts forever. But when the changes that occur seem to be regressive rather than progressive, one more small part of me dies inside.

How many small parts of us can die before we end up feeling more dead than alive?

Remarkably, it seems that there have been few if any objections to all this destruction - with the exception of Libby High School. Former students and others have been working hard to save the building since it graduated its last class in 2010. You can learn more about those efforts here and here. Demolition is apparently scheduled to start by Dec 28 despite all their attempts to stop it.

As it happens, Libbey is one of the few Toledo public high schools that I never laid eyes on. It was in a part of town I almost never entered. The one friend I had who lived in the Libbey district seems to have never had anything good to say about it. Wikipedia's entry on Libbey asserts that it was always the "unwanted stepchild" of the Toledo Public School system and there's nothing in my memory that would challenge that. One online poll that I found indicated that 76% of respondents didn't think Libbey was worth saving.

Despite all this, I hope they're able to save it.

Schools are iconic structures. Their imposing presence often dominates and characterizes an entire area or neighborhood. They bring people together as no other institution in our society can or does. Schools that stand for decades provide a bridge between generations. The memories they generate not only give heft and enlightenment to our own lives, they interweave with the memories of others and help provide some of the invisible threads that tie a society together. We dispose of them at our peril. Societies that replace them willy-nilly with ugly, interchangeable "boxes for learning" seem to me to be societies on the verge of a rapid decline.

Unless of course such changes are merely the latest symptoms of a society that's already been in decline for years....


  1. According to James Gleick's antedeluvian book, Information: The Great Flood, or something like that, Plato decried the adoption of writing by the Greeks as a threat to Greek's ability to remember.
    Gleick says the reason we have no writings of Socrates is Socrates couldn't read or write. So Plato learned the horrible arts to record his master's thoughts.
    So anyway, I'm just saying all change isn't bad, but all change inspires somebody to SAY it's bad.
    As for schools, they are a target because they teach people to think for themselves instead of letting Rush Limpo think for them.
    I would say it's a mistake to get between the most powerful people in America and one of their targets; So don't go chaining yourself to any school buildings just because famous guys with famous giant schnozzes went to school there.
    I'm sure the Toledo Public Library has Gleick's new book. And the Columbus Metropolitan Library--because I looked it up there. It's the first hit on the page of this search:

    If you go there, say "Hi" to Melissa the library assistant featured on their home page and tell her I said she's smoldering hot.

    I'll stop now.
    P.S. This is my favorite joke from the Danny Thomas show, Make Room for Daddy:
    Danny: My HANDKERCHIEF has more material than that bikini.
    Angela Cartwright: Daddy, your handkerchief has more to cover.

  2. I went to the same high school building as my grandpa. It's still standing, semi-miraculously.

  3. The dismay you feel at the reckless demolition of these schools is very understandable. Hope someone salvaged those beautifully carved/molded pieces in the picture close-ups. Oddly, my own schools were nowhere near as interesting in appearance, yet they all still stand. (Well, except the oldest, my first elementary school. I switched in 4th grade.) That was demolished and relocated to a larger area. And that might have been the only school to have had any interesting architecture.... It was darker and larger than my next school.

    But what I remember most fondly was NOT the school, itself, but EmmyLou's Candy Store right across the street from the school. Whenever my friend Beth and I had some extra change, we'd trot over there and buy some wax bottles with colored sugar water, and little sugary dots (not the gummy Dots), and Necco Wafers, and if I had enough money, a 5th Avenue Bar! Oh, and around Halloween, they had red wax lips and white fangs that had a sweet flavor... (Can you tell my mind has wandered away from the topic of school?)

    Your last full paragraph was so beautifully written about the importance of schools. It is horrible what is being done to teachers, and schools, all part of a war on education, which coincides with the war against public broadcasting. Next thing you know, Repos will be attacking libraries. (Due to our budget crisis in our state, which roars rather than trickles down the chain from state administrations to local, they've not only had to close schools down, but also close libraries for two weeks per year, I think it is.) And then there's that whole net neutrality thing that's imperilled by excess corporate greed...

    Hardy har har to Deve's "famous giant schnozzes" remark!