During one of our recent “heat waves” I was out getting a breath of fresh air and decided to walk to a doctor’s appointment in Oakland. I took a slight detour and walked past the now closed Schenley High School building. My former high school had been on my mind for months and I decided on this particular day to answer the urge. As I drew near the oval grey building, uncontrollable flashbacks began to occur.
I was not reminiscing about all of the great athletic feats that were accomplished there; I was sadly visualizing the future events that could have but would now never transpire from these hallowed halls now filled only with ghosts’ whispering about deeds of the past.
Let’s jump in the time machine and zip back to the year 1981. I was 28 years old and as the “Temptin” Temptations might say, “there was plenty of work and the bosses were paying.” I was the young CEO of a company whose function was to book “blocks” of time for high profile clients and corporations at many of the region’s recording studios.
Also in 1981, no one would have “thunk” that Schenley, Peabody and Westinghouse would be distant memories in less than 25 years. In March, I threw my hat into the political ring and decided to run for a seat on Pittsburgh’s city council. My platform was the doom and gloom that I could see coming in regards to potential federal funding cutbacks for housing and education as well as diluting and downgrading music and arts education and the athletic programs at the district’s high schools. I was described as a “mad hatter.”
As the Democratic primary grew nearer, no one seemed overly concerned about schools, only their political necks. Sophie Masloff, who would eventually become Pittsburgh’s first and only female mayor, did not (according to her platform) seem to be overly concerned about federal and state funding cutbacks that were sitting like dark clouds on the horizon. Her chief concern seemed to be about her name being [listed] last on the democratic ballot.
Future city councilman and eventual convicted felon Ben Woods was not worried about how to help his constituents or how to deal with future budgetary concerns. He was focused on winning a special election to fulfill the unexpired seat of city councilman William Coyne as well as being elected to his own four year term on council.
In November 1989, Woods was found guilty in federal court of 17 counts of extortion, racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion. Woods emerged in 1993 from a halfway house, and the path back to politics beckoned. Woods was given a second chance. Why weren’t the Pittsburgh high schools given a reprieve?
Music and athletic programs are far more than just fun and games. During and after the school day has concluded, these activities are stress relievers and confidence builders for all of the student athletes and musicians that are able to take part in them. When students are able to express themselves on the field or in orchestra and band room environments, they create and nurture invaluable social skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
In 2005, Strada architects and interior designers received a Historic Preservation Award recognizing the firm’s role in planning and designing Mifflin Elementary School’s new addition and renovation. According to their website: the renovation of the original historic Art Deco school and 1956 building addition were needed to solve accessibility and space issues. Strada led the programming of the new addition creating accessibility, a new gym, cafeteria, and expanding classroom facilities. As part of the Pittsburgh Public School District, Mifflin serves the communities of Hays, Lincoln Place, and New Homestead with 351 students in grades kindergarten through eight. The Mifflin School opened in 1898 in a log farmhouse that was replaced by a wood frame schoolhouse in 1901.
I guess that preservation and restoration of schools may very well depend on what real estate brokers define as location, location, location. They have defiled the home of Ken Durrett, Archie McGill, Francis Peay, Petey Gibson, Mark Halsel, Calvin Houston, Jack Jackson, David Dinkins and Larry Anderson. How many NBA and NFL players has Mifflin Elementary School produced? How many Friday night football and basketball tickets were sold? What would Pete Dimperio think of having to coach his “home” games on a “neutral” site? What would Howard “Bull” Lowery feel playing his home games on East Carson Street as opposed to “Sugartop?”
When schools, neighborhoods and families lose or have their identities taken away from them, their demise cannot be too far behind. When you burn the books, you lose the history.
When you lose the history, you also misplace your compass as you navigate the road to the future. Schenley High School not only closed but a detour sign has been placed on the legacy representing it.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)