Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Event: The Closing of Flint Central (Part 1 of 4)

I have a lot of stories to tell from the last couple months... things got away from me during the job search. It's not like I expect everyone to want to pore over my life story. This blog is basically a record of my experiences. Memory is a system of cantilevers; it supports our understanding of ourselves.

With that in mind, the most appropriate story for me to tell first is about my recent trip to Flint. I'd been following the local news anxiously for the last several years, as each new administration threatened to close Flint Central. This month, they finally made good on that suggestion.

A bit about the school: As an institution the school is 134 years old. The present building on the East Side was erected in 1923, and its architecture reflects the wealth of the city at that time. Built of brick and limestone, the school nevertheless an ornate style incorporating gargoyles and a tower turret, and stylized molding and paneling throughout the interior. Much of the building has been retrofitted, and since many of these physical changes were short-term solutions to long-term problems, they aged the structure prematurely. Water damage is extensive, and in some areas, floorboards have warped and buckled to the point where doors cannot be opened. Elsewhere, there are dangerously high levels of asbestos and other debris.

Central has been controversial through the years, as it was the public high school that maintained the largest Caucasian population after white flight hit the North Side in the sixties and seventies, and the neighborhood just southeast of Central was responsible for racist housing compacts. In recent decades, however, the school has become the most multicultural in the city, drawing varied populations from the East and South Sides. Central's theater program flourished under Martin Jennings for many years, and alumni include a number of impressive athletes such as Jim Abbott. In the nineties, Central's scores on standardized tests often outstripped those of Southwestern Academy, which had selective admission for gifted students.

A bit about my own story here: I never attended Central as a student. I grew up nearby, in the East Village, but I attended the Valley private school for two years and then was home schooled. I developed close friendships with kids from my neighborhood, however, and when my family moved to the suburbs when I was twelve, I took pains to stay in touch. I went to Flushing High School, and most of my friends went to Central or Powers Catholic. High School, therefore, became kind of a shadow experience. I dwelt in Flushing, and formed connections with some wonderful teachers and students there, but more often then not (and especially after I could drive), I spent the evenings in Flint. As a sophomore, I went to Central's prom in the University Club (at the top of the now abandoned Genesee Towers), and as a college student, I volunteered at Central's library when I was in Flint for the summer. Today, I'm friends with several dozen Central alums, as opposed to four or five people I keep in touch with from my own high school.

Of course, you can't go to a school unless you go there. Imagination alone won't put your feet on the floor. But I felt enough a part of this building and its history that when the news came down about the school closing that I had to come back and see it myself.

On Friday, June 12th, the district opened the building up for visitors. Sam offered a ride from Chicago in exchange for gas money, and Melvin and I took him up on his offer.




Arrival; I had to park a distance from the school. The parking lot was jammed with the news, alums, and the curious, plus the art fair was going on just a block away.

Into the beast:

A couple years ago, the Board of Education decided that the school's original mascot -- the Indians -- should be changed, as it might be offensive to Native Americans. If I recall correctly, local tribal organizations seemed to support the Indian as Central's mascot. Undeterred, the administration decided to circumvent debate via the completely uncontroversial "Operation Tomahawk" (their words, not mine), during which they stole into the school and scalped scrubbed all reference of the Indians from the walls. Except for one, evidently, which escaped their notice.

Why Central's mascot has to go, but the Cleveland Indians get to keep their hideous caricature is one of the great mysteries of this world.

The Radio Station (and Record Room)


This is the new mascot, the Phoenix. Nothing suggests hope like a bird that rises from its own ashes, and nothing suggests such an apotheosis like shuttering a school and scattering its students to the wind.

Given that Central closed anyway, would it have killed the Board to let the school keep its mascot for the last few years?

Note the art-moderne door handles. Also, note the sign warning that nothing should be kept within 36 inches of this shelf, and the table leaned up against the lower left-hand side.

And speaking of safety scissors:

Holy meltdown, Batman!

I had to wait until college to become a socialist. Not that Che Guevara is especially deep underground as far as revolutionary heroes go, but the closest thing to this I would've caught in Flushing would've been a Clinton/Gore '92 sticker (in 1997). There I go, ranting about the Marketplace of Ideas again!

Now, a large number of theatre pictures:

I've taken pictures in this space a half-dozen times, but I can never get the light quite right.


Back when I did theater, the fly space was one of my favorite places to be:

Into the scene shop:

More art-moderne.

Please contact me if you'd like a higher-resolution image from this collection.

Part 1: Here.
Part 2: Here.
Part 3: Here.
Part 4: Here.

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Anonymous Mademoiselle said...

I love your photos. Every time you write I end up looking up at least two words. :)

5:12 PM  

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