in search of tiny pears
D É J À V U
I visited my defunct grade school, which has since been partially torn down and rebuilt to suit the new owner’s needs. But the Murray Hill Galleries, the former two-story junior high that my mother attended, is still alive and well, although in a very different form (and the adjacent elementary school building is now Murray Hill condos, too).
I could walk into the former junior high building, built in 1907, and visit a variety of art studios, architects, galleries and shops, some cool places indeed (tiny pears!). But I could not visit any of them without noticing the wooden handrails, the patterned glass tiles in the floor to let light travel between stories, an old school bell on one wall, slender closets that once housed buckets and borax and whatever was used to clean up after a school full of pre-teens 50+ years ago—and of course imagining my mother carrying books in her arms and walking the halls in a long skirt and cardigan.
She tells stories from student life—a couple strict teachers who hit knuckles with rhythm sticks—and after, stories of integration and race relations. Her memories from decades ago, people, classes, the building itself: Entering through front doors, on the left was the principal’s office, on the right the nurse’s station. Shop class was taught by Mr. P. Science by Mr. R. Miss H. taught English and would read poetry to the class, which was much enjoyed. Mrs. C. visited the summer garden the students kept. There was a swimming pool in the basement of the grade school, the only one in a city school at the time, but she never learned to swim, and hated it, clearly picturing how the students had to rinse their feet after class in bleachy water. There was the room where immigrant kids were taught English, and where they were all taught “banking.” She’d deposit 25¢ a week. She didn’t remember what happened with that money, or when she withdrew it, but she did remember having a crush on one of the kid tellers. Ah, junior high.
Do you feel differently about a building when you learn of its former use?
Murray Hill Galleries Texture