My elementary school roots are all in my head now. Monroe Elementary was torn down a few years ago to make way for Gus Paulos Chevrolet - I suppose you could say Gus eventually got even. When I think of those formative years in education, I remember a cave-like central corridor with hardwood floors that made a lot of noise and had a musty, old-wood smell. The old three-story brick structure had double-loaded corridors with coat hooks at the south and north entries. In those days, instead of hall lockers, each student had a cubby-hole in the classroom where lunches and other collectibles were kept.
Over the years as I've driven down Seventh East and passed the old Hawthorne Elementary school at 14th South, I've thought of Monroe and the sound and smells. I can even recall the unique smell that the galvanized steel tricky bars left on my hands. When the old Hawthorne School disappeared, the nostalgia of my youth swept over me.Perhaps you've noticed the recent replacement for Hawthorne. I have, and I've been fairly impressed.
The new school sits west of the original structure and fronts on Ninth East and 14th South. The eastern play entry is the most prominent because of its scale and exposure to Seventh East. The high-profile structure is recognizable by the gabled roof and white frame window wall and entry doors. I find the children's side, or eastern facade, though dramatic, too large in scale to acknowledge the little fellows who use it. It also has a ramp and awkward handrail that give it an unaccommodating welcome back from recess.
There is no confusion on where the front door is because the eastern portion of the site and building is wrapped with a very high chain link fence and the only public access is on the west. The two entries - east and west - have a double-loaded corridor between them, just like their predecessor of the 1920s and '30s.
The front door is pleasant and dramatic with a scale that is comfortable for adult and child. The entry has ample natural light streaming down from the skylights above it and it provides a shelter that is both functional and aesthetic. Like the east, the west entry is white and the detailing of the gable, columns, and windows is attractive and substantive.
I introduced myself at the school offices and the administration welcomed me. I said I wanted to spend a moment and see some of the highlights of the school. The principal, a pleasantly casual woman, said that the school has both highlights and lowlights. When I responded with a puzzled expression, she said: "If you want to see the low lights, you have to come back in the evening."
With that pleasant introduction, the tour began. The inside is rather simple, and as I expected from the exterior massing, like the good old days, it has an easy-to-understand double-loaded configuration. The corridor was bright and airy, and youthful plaster relief sculptures were saved from the original Hawthorne school and placed at strategic locations. There were several at the entries and one in the center of the building where a slight jog in the corridor is emphasized by a skylight and a two-story space. A very nice touch.
The exterior landscaping is worthy of note. There are stepped planters at the east student entry that help mitigate the scale and on the east there is an ample amount of landscaping that adds a softness to the environment.
The building is not extraordinary, just simple with a good functional diagram and some nice detailing and spacial considerations.
I asked my tour guide how the kids relate to the new building. She said that there was an initial concern about the two-story spaces being used to drop or throw whatever on the unsuspecting below, but that "it has not been a problem." She went on to say that, "The quality of our new environment has had a positive effect on the children's behavior." Bravo!