Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where I'll Never Go Again

Of course there are many places I'll never go again but the one I most recently became aware of is Toledo's old Whitney High School.

While trying to find an online picture of my elementary school yesterday, I inadvertently discovered that Whitney had been torn down earlier this year.

The Blade newspaper seems to have first published a story about the pending demolition on January 4.

A few photos of the demolition can be found here (at least until The Powers That Be decide to get rid of them, too).

Wikipedia provides this helpful bit of background information:"Harriet Whitney High School was a girls vocational public high school in Toledo, Ohio from 1939 to June 1991. It served the entire city and was part of the Toledo Public School District. In 1959 the school became joint-operational with Macomber High School, an all-boys vocational school located next door, and the two buildings came to be known as Macomber-Whitney. Despite the fact that they shared an urban campus and some operational efficiencies, the two schools were completely separate in faculties, enrollments, and curriculum until the 1973-1974 school year.... Due to a declining enrollment and low finances, Macomber and Whitney were closed along with DeVilbiss High School by TPS at the end of the 1990-1991 school year. After holding various adult education classes beyond its use as a traditional high school building, Whitney will be prepped for demolition as soon as 2011 by Toledo Public Schools."

Apparently problems with heating the place back in 2003 helped seal Whitney's fate.

My personal association with Whitney was long but mostly tangential.

I recently learned that my favorite aunt attended Whitney in the 1940s.

Far more significantly (at least as far as I'm concerned), my sister graduated from Whitney in the 1960s.

I can remember my mother and I being driven down by our landlord to an evening open house perhaps during my sister's first or second year there. I suppose this was largely instigated by my landlord, who had far more interest in education than my mother ever did. It felt odd being out after dark, and especially odd being in the downtown area without the protection afforded by sunlight. Thanks to the poor visibility and my landlord's freedom to deviate from the route my bus usually took, I felt lost almost as soon as we left home. I can clearly recall seeing all the lights on in the Whitney windows, however, and wondering what exactly they might be illuminating inside. My having to stay in the car with my landlord while my mother (and perhaps my landlord's wife) went inside prevented me from ever finding out....

Flash forward to 1973 and my own decision to attend Whitney's much bigger companion school, Macomber. On my first day there for registration or orientation a Cherry Elementary friend and I got temporary lost between the two buildings. It seems like we had to circle the block-long complex several times before we regained our bearings. Somehow we managed to stumble into the correct building in the end rather than Whitney. While that seemed to me to be a great stroke of good luck at the time, I now see it as a missed opportunity to explore the halls of that mysterious Other School across the street....

Over the course of the next 4 years I sometimes spent an hour or two in a second floor Macomber study hall that was directly opposite the Whitney building. Instead of staring out the windows and watching the clouds go by as I did at Cherry, I stared out the windows at the unmoving bricks across the street. I couldn't see sky, the road, or anything else on either side - only beige-brown bricks. For some reason, they never seemed to have much in common with the bricks that I saw when I was outside. It was as if study hall belonged to a different world - a world that sometimes seemed indistinguishable from a prison camp....

It was during my senior year that I finally made it into Whitney - twice.

The first time was with a few fellow students for a conference with a teacher serving as a senior adviser. That conference seems to have been held in a classroom on the east side of the second floor - which seemed extremely odd to me at the time because I'd heard at some point that any male caught on the second floor would automatically be suspended because that's where the girls' showers were. Somehow I managed to avoid that fate. On the other hand, I also somehow managed to avoid glimpsing the girls' showers. In retrospect I'm not sure I got the best of that deal.

I believe our adviser's name was Miss Jewell, by the way. She did a great job, telling me a few things at the time that I really wanted and needed to hear. But she also went off on a digression about how she liked to wander cemeteries and take rubbings of the inscriptions. I found this terribly bizarre and amusing at the time. I've since come to see this as one of the most interesting things I ever heard in a school setting and sincerely hope she's enjoyed many, many years of good wandering since.

The second time I was in Whitney was for some sort of afternoon tea for us oh-so-special seniors.

Yes, an afternoon tea - for the boys (and girls) of an inner city vocational school. Whitney had an honest-to-goodness Tea Room in its northwest corner which you can see for yourself in this old postcard:

It was a neat space that was made even neater by the fact that all the east-bound traffic on Dorr St. seemed to be barreling right for its glass windows:

The affair was catered by Whitney's own Commercial Foods students. Sad to say, I had only the vaguest idea back then of how much work those students were required to perform in a more or less hopeless attempt to impress teenage boys anxious to put high school behind them as fast as possible.

Had I known at the time that it was going to be my last visit to Whitney, I would have tried harder to commit it to memory. As it is all I have is a few vague images of unexpected elegance and the $1000 I stole from the school's till. (FYI: That's a joke - not a confession. Did you think otherwise? Tsk tsk.)


  1. Have you Googled or Bingled the landlord?

  2. That semi-circular Tea Room is so unusual! What a shame it was demolished. It seems odd that a school was sold to a roofing company, and yet continued to be used as a school. THAT I have to say, seems very short-sighted. Not to mention the foolhardiness of heating it with propane! It doesn't sound like Macomber had much to recommend it, though...

    It's too bad your mother didn't seem interested in cultivating any sort of curiosity you obviously had. I can't imagine not knowing what it's like to be out after dark. I've always been such a night person, even as a child, and love exploring a city after daylight has drifted away! Although I suppose lacking a car had a major impact on that aspect of things...