Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Event: The Closing of Flint Central (Part 2 of 4)

So I thought that I could get through this sucker in two posts, but that ain't gonna happen. I'll go for three posts and a short epilogue. Continuing on:

It's the Liberty Bell!

To the balcony...

A better view of the theater.

The main entrance... they don't make these like they used to.

And then we took a long long climb up the dark dark stair on the wraparound stairway to the tall tall tower and there we emerged into the sun at the highest point in the school. We looked out over the green green city.

Flint sprawls over 30 square miles, and even in its current state of decline the density is over 4,000 per square mile. However, all non-industrial areas were heavily planted (a hint of the primeval wood that once carpeted the whole of Michigan). Since few structures are more than three stories, in summertime and from the air, Flint looks like a vast forest.

The Flint Cultural Center includes the Longway Planetarium (the largest in the state) and the Flint Institute of Music. Before this campus was fully developed, the Oak Grove center occupied what is now the Central parking lot. According to the Picture History of Flint, this complex was "originally a hospital for the treatment of nervous and mental disorders." Moreover, underground tunnels still link up Central with the field house, power station, and various buildings in the Cultural Center, in a network that covers several city blocks. Naturally, the basements of all of these buildings are reported to be haunted.

Adjacent Whittier Middle School, with its moat and causeways.

Yes, you read that right.

An artsy shot.

I'll probably bring this up again, but part of the value of Central to future generations of Flintites is its beauty and potential as a campus. The parklike surroundings take in rolling hills, Gilkey creek, and the campus is bordered on all sides by the Cultural Center, Mott College, the prairie-like Burroughs Park, and (nearly) downtown. I understand that rehabilitation is expensive, but in addition to potential for stable housing values and urban planning, there are intangible benefits to preserving the building and campus. This is a design that points toward the importance of higher education, as well as an inextricable connection between education, culture, and commerce. It's far different from the factory-like settings that characterize most American public schooling, rural, suburban, and urban.

The tower.

The grand tour.

I know the library better than any other part of the building. That's because I was a volunteer here in 1999. During down time I drafted my first novella, a conspiracy theory teen noir called Vertebrates. It started with the sentence: "Everything was dark." Good times.

What was taught here?

Here's where we get to the heart of the problem. This was originally a gym. You can see it, right? The school had two gyms, one for boys and one for girls. This one featured a track balcony which hung over a dozen feet below the ceiling. When the usage of that space was reevaluated, this area was converted into a set of science classrooms, and the ceiling was dropped to just below the balcony. That's right, there's over twelve feet of empty space right above those ceiling tiles.

Do you see those floors? That linoleum covers hardwood flooring. The problem is more than aesthetic. The dropped ceiling hid decades of water damage from above, and the linoleum allowed the floorboards to warp undetected. This is the result:

That door cannot open.

A glimpse of the abyss above.

Hardwood floors in the classrooms.

This is the teachers' lounge, but I think it looks more like a place where a teacher would do detention.

Students' bathroom. Someone has a run-in with a can of paint.

I had the full command of my senses; and my eyes became used to the darkness, which was lit, here and there, by fitful gleams. I calculated that we were in a narrow circular gallery, probably running all round the Opera, which is immense, underground. I had once been down into those cellars, but had stopped at the third floor, though there were two lower still, large enough to hold a town. But the figures of which I caught sight had made me run away. There are demons down there, quite black, standing in front of boilers, and they wield shovels and pitchforks and poke up fires and stir up flames and, if you come too near them, they frighten you by suddenly opening the red mouths of their furnaces ...
- Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera

He then took me into his laboratory and explained to me the uses of his various machines, instructing me as to what I ought to procure and promising me the use of his own when I should have advanced far enough in the science not to derange their mechanism. He also gave me the list of books which I had requested, and I took my leave.
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As she walked round it, she passed a door, that was not quite shut, and, perceiving, that it was not the one, through which she entered, she brought the light forward to discover whither it led. She opened it, and, going forward, had nearly fallen down a steep, narrow stair-case that wound from it, between two stone walls. She wished to know to what it led, and was the more anxious, since it communicated so immediately with her apartment; but, in the present state of her spirits, she wanted courage to venture into the darkness alone. Closing the door, therefore, she endeavoured to fasten it, but, upon further examination, perceived, that it had no bolts on the chamber side, though it had two on the other. By placing a heavy chair against it, she in some measure remedied the defect; yet she was still alarmed at the thought of sleeping in this remote room alone, with a door opening she knew not whither, and which could not be perfectly fastened on the inside.
- Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho

Finally, a great set for the production of any Harold Pinter play.

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 Anonymous said...

Love this series Connor. Great pictures. Neat comments. Pithy quotes. There has to be material here for some kind of Flint retrospective.


8:57 PM  

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