Sunday, October 20, 2013

Demolished: the Speed Street School, Vicksburg, Mississippi

For many years, a handsome brick school stood at the corner of Speed and Marshall Streets, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Location of former Speed Street School, Vicksburg, Mississippi
This is a historic neighborhood east of Washington Street with late 1800s and early 20th century houses.
The school, located at the crest of the hill, was a handsome, traditional brick structure with large, airy windows to allow plenty of light.  Contrast with today's typical, prison-like box, optimistically labeled a super school. According to the Vicksburg Post, the Speed Street School was designed by Vicksburg builder/architect, Mr. William Stanton, and was built in 1894.
"The three-story, brick building at 901 Speed St. was built in 1894 and housed Speed Street School until 1940, making it the last remaining 19th century public school building in Vicksburg. Its fall into disrepair can be traced only to recent decades, with its conversion in the late 1960s to rent-assisted living spaces under a number of different owners. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985."
According to the Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places,
"On January 14, 1895, the Speed Street School opened as South Vicksburg Public School No. 200. As late as the mid-nineteen-thirties it was one of only two white elementary schools in the Vicksburg public school system. The district also included a white high school and two schools for black students of all grade levels (Cooper, Sect. 3). Upon its closing in 1940, the Speed Street School was sold to the Allein Post #3 of the American Legion. It was again sold in 1968 at which time it was divided into low-rent apartments." 
The historical background in the nomination is interesting reading.
The entry foyer once had separate doors for boys and girls
It was a stately building, with tall, elegant windows.  The original double hung sashes were still in place,  They were probably in poor condition, but still, they were 120 years old.  The lower photograph was taken from the second floor of an apartment complex across the street.
After the tenants were removed, I explored the property.  The children abandoned some toys.
This hallway was on the north side.  An identical hall was on the other side of the wall on the right.
The door in the back led to the auditorium
The interior was grim.  There were two main halls inside on each floor with adjoining classrooms. Originally, one side of the building would have been for boys; the other side for girls. My mother went to elementary school in Nazi Germany, and she said the boys were separated from the girls with barbed wire and strictly prohibited from interacting.
This was one of the basement apartments.
The 2-story auditorium was added to the rear of the building in 1930.  The steel truss beams look newer, but possibly the roof was replaced more recently. Originally, it was a decent venue for gatherings and school events. I think the auditorium had been closed off from the apartment residents in recent years. Once the building was in demolition, the workmen stored plumbing fittings and junk there.

The building was condemned in 2008 after sewage backed up in the plumbing. Two former City employees told me that shootings, drugs, and rapes plagued the building when it was used for low-cost housing. A friend of my daughter lived there.  She reported that her apartment was one of the few with a permanent telephone.  The other tenants would come to use the phone and then steal things from the family.

The neighborhood has deteriorated, and no one was interested in restoring the building because the revenue stream would never cover the costs. A Bogalusa, Louisiana-based company, Will Branch Antique Lumber, recycled the bricks, wood floors and support beams.  It was hard, dirty, dusty work to deconstruct. Some of the roof joists were huge, made from old growth timber of the type we no longer can get.

I hate to see a building like this torn down, but at least the materials will be reused rather than discarded, as is typical now. Will today's commercial buildings and McMansions have anything worth recycling in 100 years? I doubt most will even be standing in 50 years.

For more information, Preservation in Mississippi had an article on the Speed Street School in 2009 (click the link).

Photographs 1,2, and 4 (the black and whites) were taken on Kodak Panatomic-X film with a Fuji GW690II camera, film developed in Rodinol 1:50.  The rest were taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with the 14-54 mm lens, or a FujiFilm F31fd compact camera, all tripod-mounted.

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