Saturday, January 07, 2006

Appreciating the Ittner Legacy

Last night, my buddy Matt and I were in the mood for some exploring. We first swung by the old VanDyke Brewery in St. Charles to see if it was accesible, but there was too much going on in the area to attempt to enter the old building undetected. So off we headed into the city. I decided that we would check out an old abandoned Middle School that I had researched. The school in question, formerly known as Enright Middle School, was built in 1905 by famous architect William B. Ittner. Ittner designed all St. Louis city schools between 1897 and 1915, and they are some of the most stunning designs you'll ever see. This first photo I actually borrowed from because I wanted to show how MASSIVE this school really is, but I was unable to take any photos outside since it was evening and I didn't want to attract attention with any unnessesary camera flashes. The building is four stories high, and stretches well over the length of a city block. It was quite an imposing sillouhette as we approached in the dark.

We walked around the entire front side of the building, finding no visible entrances but truely appreciating the intricate stonework and artistic design of the 100 year old building. Finally, we found a way in, and found ourselves in what we believed was an old art room. I'm not exactly sure what gave us that idea. The inside was pretty torn up, but there was still plenty of stuff remaining from when the building was abandoned in 1994. We slowly began to make our way through the first floor of the building, being careful to keep out flashlights dim by shining in through barely cracked fingers, as the school shares two sides with residential areas. Perhaps I'm only paranoid, but you can never be too careful. The hallways seemed to strech on forever, and our flashlight beams always seemed to end just out of reach of something.......I always have a small fear lingering in the back of my head of running into a squatter or other less that desireable figure, but that hasn't stopped me from visiting anywhere I want to see yet. It feels very strange to walk past rows of lockers and imagine the multitudes of children that used them year after year. I especially enjoyed going into the classrooms and reading the chalkboards. When the school was abandoned it was apparently done very quickly, as the chalkboards still display whatever lessons were being taught on that last day. My favorite chalkboard contains a message from the Enright summer school class of 1993....I know that the building has been abandoned since 1994, but could that have been one of the last groups of students to attend class in the school? I can only guess . We walked through the entire building, looking through every room, dispite Matt's growing whine tangents about "asbestos" or something. I don't really know what he was talking about, but I'm sure it's nothing. What a whiner!

One of the stranger things that we noticed was that the building has at least three gyms! There is a main gym on the ground floor, and two slightly smaller gyms on the fourth floor. One of these gave us our finest view of downtown, through one of the many broken windows. We just stood there for a moment and took it all in. When you spend hours wandering an abandoned building, especially at night, you almost forget that the rest of the world is out there, just outside the boarded up doors. Up in this fourth floor gym, the broken windows allowed all of the sounds and breezes of the outside world to blow through the room, almost as if it were only a screened in porch 100 feet above the ground. Having seen all there was to see, this evening at least, we headed back down one of the many amazing staircases to the art room where we entered the building.

This building is an amazing relic of a time when true artistry went into the construction of even gradeschools, a far cry from the almost institutional looking high school that I have seen being contructed lately. Wandering the empty halls, you feel an undeniable connection with the building's past and all of the generations of children that slept through classes in the many rooms every day. It was time we say goodbye, but I hope to return here in the daytime, so that I have the freedom to take pictures of the many classrooms on the upper floors without fear of my flash alerting any unwanted attention. I feel bad now that I never checked in with the principal, but ever since high school I have had an uncontrollable fear of school authority. Maybe next time. I needed a shower.


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