Old Schools

This hasn't really come up on my blog, but, in addition to being a pattern geek and model animal hoarder, I'm an armchair architecture nut.  Key word, I'm sure, being "nut".  My mother jokes about how vacation pictures taken, especially by my father and I, are full of scenery, vintage cars, and old buildings, but include no people.

I took a mini road-trip this weekend with a friend to Bryan, Texas (his hometown), and came back with pictures of--you guessed it!--buildings.  Evidence of guilt here, on Flickr.  (I did get one picture of him, but I don't usually post pictures of people publicly.)  It's a small set but there is some good stuff, including a Prairie-style Masonic lodge, Art Deco bank and trust (I am particularly addicted to Art Deco), and the 1918 Bowie School, which is vacant and just waiting for an eccentric billionaire to move in.  Which is exactly what I would do if I were an eccentric billionaire.

I love old schools and hospitals in particular, but they also make me sad.  I work for an historical archive associated with a medical school, so I see this a lot: Beautiful old hospital buildings disappear incredibly quickly.  My guess is that institutional buildings like schools and hospitals, which take heavy use and go out of date quickly as technology changes, tend to be large and expensive to maintain, and are frequently located on valuable urban real estate, are especially vulnerable to being torn down and replaced with newer structures.

I've actually watched those horrible ghosthunting shows on TV just so I can see the interiors of abandoned hospitals and hotels.  No joke.  Sometimes I have to turn the sound off to stand it--Zak Bagans and crew are just too dumb to live, I'm sorry--but I watch anyway.

(I don't think all ghosthunting shows are horrible.  I'm a skeptic but I'm also a big ghost-story, folklore, and history geek.  It's just that a few specific ghosthunting shows are really embarrassing.)

Anyway . . . most of the schools I attended in my elementary-through-high school career were modern and boring, but two of them weren't.  In fourth grade, I went to Mary Harrington Elementary and in sixth, I went to William J. Smiley Junior High, both in Denver, Colorado.  Smiley is easy to find on the Internet, and it was one of those spectacular three-story buildings with a central tower in the front.

Ironically, both school years were pure Hell socially and academically but I loved the buildings, even when I was a kid.

Here it is, in the snow.  Awe-inspiring, right?  The interior is a knock-out, too.

Harrington was another story.  I'd Googled around enough to know that there was a new Harrington Elementary, and this made me sort of sick.  The building I attended was a 1920's Spanish Colonial style with a stuccoed exterior and red tile roof.  The interior had been restored a few years earlier and was all dark wood, cream-colored paint, and tile.  It was beautiful.  The thought of it being razed was just terrible.  I mean, I went there a long time ago but not that long ago--it couldn't have been that decrepit.

Today, I was waiting for the scanner to warm up and stumbled across this thread in an architecture-fanatics' forum.  It's all historic schools in Denver and the photographs are so beautiful it hurts. 

I scrolled down and found Smiley.  Then I scrolled down some more and found the Pioneer Charter School.

Formerly known as Mary Harrington Elementary.

It's still there!

I am literally relieved almost to the point of tears to find out that it wasn't torn down.  My classroom would have been, if you went through the door to the right in the photograph, the first classroom on the right, in the 1949 wing (which is hidden by the building in the picture), on the first floor.


PepperReed said…
Yay!! I'm glad they're still around. I love old buildings and am a total architectural nerd. I was in Boston recently and just wandered around looking at the sites, including the buildings.
We were in Philadelphia a few years ago for a family event and it's a miracle I didn't stumble out into the street and get run over, I was looking up at the buildings so much. So much Art Deco!

We also go to Galveston regularly, which is kind of scrappy but has its own coastal-city style. Lots of beach colors and gingerbread.