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    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Youngstown, Part Six


    Like so many things, I found this while I was looking for something else. I remember learning that my old school, Woodrow Wilson High School in Youngstown, Ohio, was going to be closing. I tucked that in the back of my mind and forgot about it.

    Choir director Elaine Carlson (in the article) was a very new teacher when I was a student at Wilson, but I remember her. I wasn't in the choir, but they practiced in a room right next to the band -- the band being directed by Richard Yozwick then William F. Gonda the two years I was there. I wish I had seen this article before, though I don't know if I really could have made the trip for an alumni concert.

    But 2007 was the last graduating class of my old school. Yes, I only went there for two years, before moving north and finishing at Geneva. But it is still bittersweet somehow.

    They're going to tear it down.

    They're going to tear it down and build a new middle school. I suppose that is a good thing. Objectively.

    When I lived in Youngstown twenty years ago, there were five public high schools in the city: The Rayen School on the north side, South and Wilson on the south side, East on the east side, and Cheney on the west side. South closed years ago, and the building is used now by a private or charter school. Rayen has closed along with Wilson. And a new building is now called East High School, along with (I understand) a somewhat refurbished Cheney -- two high schools where there were once five.

    It makes sense really, and it plays into the whole smaller city concept that Youngstown is embracing. Rather than fighting the contraction, they are embracing it. An odd concept, but one that has been borrowed from Germany -- where unification led to an exodus from East German cities.

    A satellite view on Google maps reveals where houses have been torn down and lots greened over. Note where there are driveway aprons along Tod Lane between Logan and Kensington, but no more driveways or houses. It is an ongoing process there, one that the mayor has gotten out in front of. It seems a little odd still, celebrating another building torn down -- yet grassy lots are better than the blight of vacant and falling down houses in neighborhoods that have lost the majority of their residents.

    In 1987, I was in the all-city school production called "A Salute to Excellence" -- which was this quasi-musical theater production put on by the English department. The thinking was, take writings from all the students at all the schools in the district, and cobble them together into some sort of script. I remember I had a lot of fun with it, but when I look back on it, it was twee and cheesy. I think I understand better now why my drama coach, Robert Vargo, didn't care for it so much. Suzanne Foster from Cheney was the brains behind the operation. I remember her and especially her trademark black dresses.

    Anyway, I mention Salute, because that year part of the story was that we were all alums (or students -- in the flashback sequences) of a fictional high school, John Young High. John Young was the founder of Youngstown, and since this was an all-city, all-school production, the conceit of a single school seemed to fit. Back when I was in the cast of Salute, I remember thinking that maybe we'd be better off with just one or two larger schools. I thought about how small our band and speech team was, and how bad our football team was (the Redmen went 1-19 the two years I was there) -- and thought that reduced to a couple of larger schools, we might be able to pool our talent and actually compete.

    So it is interesting and perhaps odd that today, that fiction is about to be realized. From five high schools to two high schools: one on the east side, one on the west side.

    And Wilson is gone. No, they haven't torn it down yet, but it is now forever closed to the public.

    Apparently they had an event around graduation called "Wilson's Last Stand." A final chance to walk the halls. I missed it. I understand that asbestos remediation is well underway in preparation of the actual razing of the building.

    I know it is the right thing to do, to close it, and yes, to tear it down to build a new middle school. My head says it is right. It still pulls at my heart. It is just a building. And didn't I hate it there?

    And with that... if they haven't done so yet, I hope they tear down 2902 Rush Boulevard. Before it finishes falling down on its own.

    * * *

    A previous post about Wilson. And Youngstown, Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five.

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    Comments on "Youngstown, Part Six"

     

    Anonymous Stephanie said ... (12:36 PM, August 24, 2007) : 

    I can feel your pain. My alma mater, good old Harbor High in Ashtabula, was closed to the public before my 10 year reunion.

    Ever since then there has been debate over what to do with the building. My mom just told me a few weeks ago that it is going to be torn down.

    It's sad, really. I know we joked about the place being ready to fall over even back when we were students there ... but it's a part of my history, and a part of Ashtabula's history. And while I wouldn't wish to do high school over again, it was comforting somehow just being able to drive past the old school when I was back in town and remember the fun times we had there.

     

    Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:53 PM, August 24, 2007) : 

    Wow, how said your old neighborhood looks (I checked the first post with the pictures). The elementary school was torn down last year and left as green space. It was in bad shape when I went there in the 70s. Hard to believe it stayed standing until 2006.

    C.

     

    Blogger Audient said ... (3:07 PM, August 24, 2007) : 

    Steph - I thought about Harbor High as I wrote this. I felt like I better understood how all the Harbor grads must have felt when the schools were consolidated into Lakeside. I did not know that Harbor was to be razed now.

    When I was in the jazz band, I performed once on Harbor's stage -- a small memory in comparison, but a personal one to your school.

    When I was in high school, I had a thing for Harbor girls, I admit it.

    C.- I still have both my old elementary schools, for now.

     

    Blogger gomezfive said ... (3:46 PM, August 27, 2007) : 

    you should buy 2902 just because it's on rush boulevard. then raze the house and erect a statue of of geddy lee where your bedroom once was. and then just refer to it as "your erection" in casual conversation. that would be awesome.

    you can submit your erection to the ohio visitors board to be listed as a tourist attraction. that would be even awesome-er.

     

    Blogger Zup said ... (8:43 PM, August 27, 2007) : 

    Wow, I have to say that these posts on Y-town are so interesting to me in terms of planning and the urban form. I need to read more about Y-town's current direction....I'm familiar with the idea of contraction of shrinking urban spaces, but I need to read more. Cleveland could use a bit more of that in certain areas.

     

    Blogger Kate Anne said ... (7:37 PM, September 12, 2007) : 

    Audient -- don't know if you will find this very late recognition to this awesome post.

    My high school, too, Saint Benedict Academy, was closed some time ago and I felt weird about it, too. The building is still there and used for socially correct purposes, but I have no idea what it looks like inside. Hmmmmmm.

    We can go back there in our dreams. I sometimes go back to Shandy Hall and sometimes there are some additional hidden rooms there. Strange, yes?

     

    Blogger Kate Anne said ... (7:39 PM, September 12, 2007) : 

    PS -- I meant to add that Gomezfive's comments made me laugh out loud -- what a hoot!!

     

    Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:27 PM, November 29, 2007) : 

    Enjoyed reading your post because I remember attending that very production of "Salute to Excellence" and I certainly remember Suzanne Foster and her black dresses! But one correction from a loyal alum: it's spelled "Chaney" High School.

     

    Blogger Lori said ... (10:23 AM, April 16, 2008) : 

    I'm really late to this discussion but I just had to comment on the "Salute to Excellence". Your post has spurred a really fun flashback for me. I, too, participated in the 1989production of the program. Our theme was a take-off on "The Princess Bride"...your drama teacher would have really hated that one! Suzanne Foster was my 12th grade AP English teacher. Anybody know whatever happened to her?

    I'm so glad I found this blog. I love reading about Youngstown history and the city's ongoing changes.

     

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