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April 6, 2006

Interviewing the School

2006-04-06-06 18922006.jpg

In my job, we record history through dialogue. Interviewers spend large amounts of time researching their subject and then, microphone and recorder in hand, meet with the person, ask them guiding questions and learn their life story. While you cannot interview a building in the purest sense, you can stand at street level and listen to it speak.

If you were to stop at the corner of Hicks and Huntington Street, you would see your average city public school. At first glance, it is a large brick box�the quintessential 1950�s education plant design�and it might not appear all that special. If you take the time to round the block, however, an interesting timeline will reveal itself. From Huntington, down Hicks and around to Nelson the history of P.S. 27 unfolds and while it cannot narrate its lifespan via microphone, its bricks and windows, doorways and roof tell you a story. You just need to look, research, and listen.

I have spent the last month and a half interviewing a school. I have walked around the block several times in a row, alarming the crossing guard, stood with my nose against its brick inspecting color changes and patterns, and charming the custodian into letting me into the basement. Many hours have been logged in archive rooms, mucking around in old Board of Education proceedings, harassing the history of education archivist, and asking questions to which no one seems to have the answer. P.S. 27 has definitely been a difficult subject. It has taken time to draw out its life. Despite this, the story has unfolded with only a few gaps. As I write my term paper, I will tell it to you.

But first, a question. My favorite way to begin my research on a structure is to look for its scars�the faint old lines where other buildings once rubbed against it, perhaps the old stitch marks of a former storefront or the ghost of a window now completely bricked in. How do you read the life history of buildings?

Image Sources: Left to right: Souvenir of Our Public Schools. (New York: Brooklyn Board of Education,1892), Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection; "New York�s Changing Scene." Sunday News, May 3, 1970 (both 1930�s and 1970 images); 2006 image from my personal collection.

Posted by callalillie at April 6, 2006 7:11 AM | Education , History

Content & images are (c) 2003-2008 Corie Trancho-Robie | All rights reserved.