Date of Visit: July 15, 2012
Abandoned schools are always tremendously sad to me. Schools are the foundations of a neighborhood; mighty structures that were built to inspire, with classical architecture and, often, rich ornamentation. Schools are meant to persevere, to define a neighborhood, to inspire rivalries with other schools. Generation after generation should pass through the doors of a school, sit in its creaky chairs, carve their initials in its desks, inhale its chalk dust, be humiliated in its locker rooms, suffer dodgeball injuries in its gymnasium, grow faint with anxiety waiting for its stage curtain to open, tape pictures of heroes to locker walls. Schools are built to last, they are built to protect. It's no wonder that school buildings often serve as fallout or tornado shelters. They are an indispensable heart (brain?) of a community, and it's hard to believe they could ever close.
But they do close. And in the last twenty years, they've been closing with ever-increasing frequency. The city of Chicago just closed over 50 schools this year. All over the rust belt, a combination of population loss in former industrial and manufacturing meccas and the rise of privatized for-profit charter schools have meant that many neighborhood icons are ringing the school bells for the last time and decaying in silence.
Of all the buildings I've explored, schools always seem the most wasteful. Not just because the buildings are immense and beautiful, but also because the interiors are often so stunning. The woodwork of the inbuilt cabinets and desks is like nothing you would ever see constructed today. I find myself thinking, "If only I could have a cabinet like this in my house." And I also find myself thinking... how can they not reuse this? How can they just let all of this beauty, all of this valuable
beauty, just decay and become vandalized and destroyed?
And it's not just the wooden furniture and cabinets that is a waste. So many supplies are left behind. I have seen libraries still stocked with books, gymnasiums filled with desks and textbooks, piles of chairs, piles of projectors, rooms full of paper and pencils and pens and staplers and chalk. So many things that you'd think they could have sent to another school? Or given away to charities? So many things that could have found a use but are instead wasting away in the moldy silence.
This particular school (possibly the most beautiful I've seen) was built in 1913; it closed in 2006; and it's currently being vandalized into ugliness. I was there before it started really getting hit by vandals, but it's now just shell of what it was when I saw it in July, 2012. And when I saw it, it was just a shell of what it once was when it was in use. It's a particularly tragic loss.