Angels in the Architecture - when they used to build schools like cathedrals.
One of the side benefits of visiting high schools is that I end up going all over the city. This takes me to neighborhoods that I normally wouldn't have reason to visit. For a New York History wonk that can be pretty cool even if you just limit yourself to looking at the schools. A few of the schools I visited in the last couple of weeks before the new year were self contained whole building schools:
- James Madison
- Goddard High School
- FDR HS
- Midwood HS
Goddard was interesting because it was founded in 2008 and grew out of the middle school in the same building. FDR was also interesting. It was founded in 1965 which makes the building fairly young or at least early middle aged for a New York City school building. When you approach it, you see this small short modern looking one story structure:
Hidden from view is the big rectangular tower that the entrance connects to via a tunnel. I had an interesting conversation with the school's principal about how that came to be.
James Madison and Midwood also have their own buildings and they are both partially screened - that is, they have selective admissions for at least a portion of their student population. FDR is particularly interesting becuase it is frankly an "old school" neighborhood school that survived the destructive years of Bloomberg/Klein.
The other schools I visited in that span were all housed in schools that had been closed during the Bloomberg/Klein years and new small schools created in their place. The original buildings were:
- Thomas Jefferson
- Franklin K Lane
- Christopher Columbus
- Andrew Jackson
One of the coolest parts about visiting the older buildings is that they were built in a different time. You have elaborate lobbies of marble and polished granite. Beautiful murals and ornate auditoriums. Unique architectural features like the ramps on the first floor in Thomas Jefferson or the foyer in Brooklyn Tech (a school I visited earlier in the year).
They also have school history. In many of the buildings the walls are still adorned with names of notable alumni.
Christopher Columbus boasts Sal Mineo, (Anne Bancroft), and, well, David Berkowitz. Andrew Jackson does pretty well for basketball with Bob Cousy, Lly Daniels, Boo Harvey, and recent Knick Kyle O'Quinn. Woody Allen and Mimi Sheraton among others went to Midwood. James Madison has a political bent with Bernie Sander, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Chuck Schumer. Finally, Thomas Jefferson was home to Sylvia Fine, David Daniel Kaminsky (that's Danny Kaye to you), Paul Mazrusky, Al Lewis, and others.
Another tidbit I learned was about the history of Franklin K Lane. Lane's built in the Brooklyn Queens border. You can see the hills of Forrest Park left from the last Ice Age rising up behind it as you approach the building. Apparently there used to be a line of paint denoting the border. Lane also saw a good deal of race related turmoil throughout it's history. I was talking to an alum during my visit and he was telling me how that in his day, you either left the building via the north entrance or the south one depending on your crew and woe is he who got caught on the wrong side.
Finally, many of the older buildings were part of the WPA from the New Deal.
If you do get a chance to go into an old school, take some time to check out the architecture and the ghosts of the past.
I'll leave you with a couple of pictures from Brooklyn Tech - mostly because they were easy to find.