My High School in Ruins

08/13/2012

Old Lemon-Monroe High School - Monroe, Ohio

It’s possible that my high school was one of the junkiest in the nation but, man oh man, did that building have tons of character. These days, it’s always under threat of being torn down but, so far, various groups have found use for the facilities – parts of which are are apparently over 100 years old. My siblings went there, my parents went there, and so did my grandparents.

The condition of this building was so poor a decade ago that the main entrance had to be closed when cracks under the facade (where it says “high school” in the photo) began dumping chunks of concrete on the ground below. Thank God no one was injured or killed.

Another similar incident occurred when one of the towering, football stadium lights fell back onto the tennis courts behind it, smashing up part of the concrete court in its carnage. Again, no one was hurt, but this happened an hour or two after my gym class had finished up playing tennis. If the light would have fallen forward, it would have landed on a little roadway in between the courts and football field, which could have landed on a car.

Regarding the building’s character, what has long made it unique is that it’s such a hodge-podge of construction, brought on by the conversion of farmland into neighborhoods. As the community grew, so did the school. One small building eventually morphed in the large structure you see above. Over the years, a second gym was added (respectively referred to as “the new gym” and “the old gym”), a large auditorium was built, and “the new wing” was added.

Monroe, Ohio is a town where most people stay for good. They’re born there, and they die there. The history is rich, and the schools have always proudly shown that. Display cases are filled with trophies, trophies, and more trophies. Plaques have always adorned the walls to brag of various student accolades, and the Old Wing walls were lined with giant, framed assemblies of senior photos from most of the school’s graduating classes. On days when time was on my side, I could look and find photos of my parents, their cousins, my grandparents, and their siblings. I hope that tradition carried over to the new school, which opened in 2005.

I wouldn’t say any of my classmates came from disproportionally wealthy families, although there was a great disparity between those lived “up the hill” in Brittany Heights and those who lived in places like “the reservation” – a run-down neighborhood where all the streets were named after Native America tribes and located next to the ultra blue collar steel mill. Those people have to power wash their houses every few years, due to all the particulate matter blown about from the factory next door. You get what you pay for.

It’s a little sad to see what time and neglect have done to the old high school. As a student there, whenever a ballot issue would come up to raise money for the two schools in the district, I remember the cost of upkeep cited always seemed astounding. I wondered then how it could be so high, but now I get it. I took the photo above in 2004 or so. The last time I visited the school, in 2009, the parking lot was filled with giant cracks, plywood covered the bottom section of windows, and the yellowish exterior bricks (limestone?) have developed large, white stains.

Some sort of long-term preservation effort would be nice, but the questions of “how,” “why,” and “who” have all kept people scratching their heads. When the school district moved into its new, giant K-12 school (which looks like all the other new schools in the Midwest), a church had talked about taking over the old property, mostly to use the auditorium. Additionally, a health science academy was a tenant for a time, as was the school district in the next city over. Apparently that district ran out of building space and used the old high school as a middle school for a few years.

Although the building is, and has always been, unsightly, it’s rich in history. Many generations have passed through the doors. Whatever the fate of the building is, the memories will always remain, and sometimes you just have to hold on to those while you walk away….

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4 Responses to “My High School in Ruins”

  1. I really love this post. It shows how much place and memory are intertwined and can connect people to their history! I have to disagree that that the building is unsightly though. That’s some great Art Deco architecture going on there! I’ll cross my fingers with you that a permanent use for it will be found soon.

    • Hey there… I took another look at your page and love the content. As for the old high school, I can certainly see your perspective. While attending, the building seemed dated and was embarrassing. But the longer I’ve been away from it, the more I have come to appreciate how unique it truly is. Thanks for shedding light on preservation work. I’m sure many people appreciate what you are doing and, as some buildings inevitably disappear, it’s great that you are helping keep a record of places that mean a lot to some people.

      If interested, look up the “Sorg Mansion.” It’s in my Ohio hometown and is in need of some major TLC. There has been a lot of message board chatter about it, and it’s been estimated that the rehab project would run around $750k, in addition to $500k for the property itself. I’d love to undertake that kind of challenge if I had that kind of discretionary income, but well, you know… 🙂

  2. Thanks! I’ve only been writing Bricks + Mortar for a few weeks now so I really appreciate the encouragement. Every time I hit publish, I’m convinced no one is going to read what I’ve posted!

    I tried to find out a little bit more about your high school, but couldn’t find much on the internet. I did come across this newspaper article though ( http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/04/21/loc_monroedoc21.html). It looks like the photos and things you mentioned are being cared for and weren’t just left behind. I went to the same elementary school as my father and loved that he was in the old photos of the football team – the school took them down when they remodeled, which is terribly disappointing to me so I identify with your concern.

    I looked up Sorg Mansion – wow! It is a very impressive house. It’s interiors are even better than the exterior (it’s kind of imposing!) Have you seen inside? This little video gives a little peek at some of the interior details – fire places, woodwork, mosaics, etc. You should check it out if you have a spare 3 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCuk-6swLkw

    • Thanks for finding and sharing that article. I really enjoyed reading it, and it put a smile on my face reading about people I know/went to school with. I had no idea they worked on that kind of project after my time at the high school, which is awesome they had that opportunity.

      Regarding the Sorg Mansion, unfortunately I haven’t ever been able to check out the interior. And you’re right – it does have a very imposing look. It’s so dark and intimidating, and there have also been stories about it being haunted, further adding to the mystique. My mom took dance lessons there as a kid, and one of my cousins lived in there after the mansion was turned into apartments. That might be a big part of the refurbishing expense – turning it back into a single, more cohesive structure. Thanks for also providing the video link. Some of the detail in the mansion looks just incredible…all the fireplaces and mosaic tiles and such look so awesome.

      Keep up the great work, and I’ll keep checking out your page!

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