Sunday, December 2, 2012

Take THAT, Middle School!

This in the late-breaking-news category:

Gove Middle School attendees the world over will be pleased to know that our former prison, uh, or rather, school has been demolished.

Gove Middle School

Built in 1975, across the street from the previous Gove Junior High (a beautiful Italian Renaissance Revival building that was closed, partially demolished, and then finally put to rest in a large conflagration as the new Gove was going up), the new building was meant to be a modern paragon of junior high educational architecture. 

Gove Junior High School, the elder. 

Ah, 1970s architecture. Unlike the previous Gove, a castle it was not. Fortress was more like it. In fact, that school would have made a wonderful hideout in case of zombie apocalypse. And I should know: I attended the school, and I think about these kinds of things.

Can it even compare? The "new" Gove. 

What made the new Gove such a great zombie shelter was precisely what made it a miserable place to attend school: few windows and even fewer doors. The lack of egress to the outdoors created an environment that was entirely interior--airless, soulless, complete with linoleum flooring and neon lighting. I thought the tween years were my most awkward because of the braces, the bad hair, and the growth spurts...but maybe it was just poor lighting?

From the outside the building was not much better: a giant bland beige box sans decorative features, set up on a hill, surrounded by a chain link fence. Throw in some blacktop and trash swirling in a lonely circle around the edges of the building, and you have the picture. How uninviting. Ayn Rand's Howard Roark could not have been prouder of such a building had he conceived it himself.

Gove's main entrance was sequestered at the back of the building, sheltered in a cove that guaranteed the outside world would have no idea the building was inhabited. Gove somehow managed to violate Jane Jacobs's ironclad philosophy of successful urban spaces: that active blocks with lots of bodies moving about (check) encourage community engagement and safety (um, no). Instead, drivers along Colorado Boulevard would not know a soul was in attendance at that school, unless there happened to be a fire drill right as they happened by.

Enhancing my ire for the school years between the ages of 12 and 14, was that I learned little of great import during that time. Recent discussions questioning the usefulness of college, such as this recent NY Times article (Saying No to College), miss the point. I learned much of use in college: much that I might not have gleaned elsewhere, and certainly not in such large overwhelming concentrations. High school as well was a period of personal renaissance.

The period where I learned next-to-nothing was middle school. I learned to balance a checkbook in a math class-- a skill I rarely find recourse to as an adult-- and I learned I have a great love for languages. French and Spanish set me on my way to more of both, as well as forays into Russian, Norwegian, you name it. Wonderful as this knowledge was, I was more likely to have stumbled upon languages of my own accord, than I would have been to pick up an algebra or chemistry book. Interest in the STEM disciplines was lost to me at this time, not to be regained until much, much later in life.

Lest you think I curse our former teachers, I would not be quick to lay harsh blame at their feet. It wasn't entirely the fault of the teachers; no, those ennobled souls tried to drill sense and facts into our hard little heads. Unfortunately, the prison-like aura of the school held true even in class: many of our teachers spent far, far too much time wrangling miscreants, leaving them with less time to educate. Students who were eager to please, who yearned for more than packaged information passed around on a one-size-fits-all tray, were left to fend for themselves outside of class. Thank goodness I was a reader.

So now after having razed the reputation of my demolished school building, I can admit I was curious to see how the new owner of the lot, National Jewish Hospital, planned on revitalizing such a cursed, unfortunate space. After a year of watching demolition and much dirt-shifting and apparent complicated construction, what do we find? A parking lot. And a park, of sorts. Kind of. Okay, barely.

Parking Lot Plans 
Image via NJH.

While I am inherently grateful to National Jewish Hospital for ridding the world of this scourge of architecture/all my deep-seated childhood nightmares, I am also quick to push aside this gratitude. When news of the sale had first circulated, I had images of a shiny new hospital building for pulmonary sufferers--a group very close to my heart, no pun intended--rising from the school ashes. I also dreamt they might borrow from the sweet dreams playbook of all modern city planners: a multi-purpose business/hospital/hotel that would revitalize a dead zone section of Colorado Boulevard. Initial local newspaper coverage seduced us with this possibility. Alas, this is not to be. The hallowed grounds of former Gove Middle School are destined to become...a parking lot.

How mundane.

On second thought, how fitting.


For another view on Gove, see TQE's amusing blog post. By the way, I totally stole my image of the rubble from his site. Stealing: another "helpful" skill that was thick on the ground in middle school!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mailbox of Love

You know your city has hit the Hipster Big Time when you start to see clever, quirky graffiti in mundane places. The Authorities--never ones to permit much fun--paint over the graffiti, yet up again it pops in a cheeky manner that most likely has The Man stomping and blustering at the audacity of those kids!

Case in point: The lovebird mailboxes at 12th Avenue and Lafayette Street. They lean tenderly towards each other, whispering sweet nothings.

"Love You"
"Love You Too,"


"They can never "
"Tear us apart."

The postal service has painted over their faces and conversation several times, yet some hardened scofflaw criminal, disrespectful of the Rule of Law, repaints the little mailbox people under the darkness of night. Their love will go on!

I think it's great when these types of stories get coverage in the Denver papers. More love for the local characters!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bookers and Hookers

Esperanza Caminando

A rather large element of what makes a neighborhood special are the characters who inhabit it: small moving parts of the larger fabric lending the area a particular charm,  or lack thereof. Denver, a sprawling city at 40 miles wide, has subdivided into a collection of smaller neighborhoods, each with its own unique feel.

We’ve all noticed the personalities of these different neighborhoods--the Denver Country Club reeks of money, the Highlands give off whiffs of style, and the industrial sections of Commerce City? Well, they just plain stink. But have you ever paused to consider what features beyond architecture and monetary investment make regions the way they are?

When you live or work in a neighborhood you begin to notice patterns as you go about your daily activities, and the people you regularly see--whether you interact with them at all--become like familiar friends. Or annoying pests. Take your pick.

I once wrote about a few such New York City personages here and about how a city’s inhabitants shape its character here. Recently, I’ve been looking around myself in Denver, noticing oddities and people to whom my eyes are automatically drawn.

To start, there’s my garage neighbor, who drives immaculately-restored, washed, and waxed classic cars and trucks. We’ve never actually spoken, have exchanged no more than a head nod, but in our home he has come to be called “Truck.”

Truck is not only clearly dedicated to the beauty of his cars, but he preserves their little home--the communal garage--better than the rest of us slobs who pull haphazardly into what could only loosely be defined as our reserved “spots.” The demarcating paint lines have faded significantly into peeling shadows of their former selves, you see, and so I generally gauge my assigned slot by the positioning of neighboring cars. This method proves problematic when my neighbors are all out.

Not Truck. No, Truck re-paints his lines every few months with startlingly white paint, which acts as a sort of shield protecting his babies from the rest of us less-careful drivers. Not that we ever hit each others’ cars (which is a feat in itself, considering how narrow the garage happens to be), but somehow I’m extra careful to avoid Truck’s vehicles, because clearly they are valued more highly--better loved--than my own. Those white strips demand greater respect.

Another neighborhood character has been spotted by my husband and I while on the morning commute. Husband and I currently work different schedules, and I’m a bit of a night-owl to begin with, so on the mornings where I can manage to pull open my eyelids, slosh down some coffee, and find myself dressed by the time he leaves for the office, I will drive him in. Have you figured yet that he walks to work a lot?

In the past few weeks we have now twice seen a young man somewhere within the realm of our own ages, dressed in a suit, walking from Capitol Hill towards downtown with his nose buried in a book. He looks up from his reading only to cross the street, then turns his face back downwards to absorb the obviously engrossing tome in his hands. It’s rather amazing, really, to see how quickly he can mosey down the sidewalk without looking to see where he’s headed. Perhaps he has read this how-to.

The mobile reader is a fan of hardbacks and removes the covers, so we nosy librarians can’t see the titles of the books he prefers, but we highly approve, highly approve, of his dedication. I of course want to say something to him, and perhaps become fast reading friends (catch my pun there?), but my more restrained spouse keeps me from interrupting his reverie. Really, he’d probably just think I was weird. Goodness knows my spouse already does.

Anyway, the ranging reader’s name is now "Booker."

And the final recent character discovery is usually to be found on the sidewalk at the corner of 14th and Logan. He is what many refer to as a “sign person,” meaning that he is a homeless gentleman who sits on the corner with a hand-written cardboard sign, displayed to passing motorists in the hopes that someone will give him money.

Now, whatever you think about the politics or morals of panhandling, or the encouraging of said practice, I will admit that I’m an irregular donor. Sometimes the New Yorker in me simply refuses and continues walking, but every now and then I find myself immediately reaching for my pocket. While I tend to follow the rule that it is better to give in other ways, somehow I can’t help but respond to certain individuals, and I generally don’t quite understand what sparks the impulse on any given day.

This guy is an easy one, though. We’ve named him "Hooker," and you’ll understand why when I tell you that he holds up a sign that reads “Need money for a hooker.” This makes me laugh.

The more stern members of the “don’t give cash” camp argue that the money will not be put to a good end, but as I myself occasionally enjoy sitting on a bar stool enjoying a beer, I also think “who am I to judge? Why should the homeless be held to higher moral standards than the rest of us?” Oversimplification, perhaps, but hey, it’s only a dollar.

Hooker always looks highly pleased with himself, too, so he must be doing fairly well with that sign.

I always wonder if the neighborhood characters know they are being observed, and that they are delighting people they pass in some small way. And then I wonder if I’m somebody’s neighborhood character--perhaps for walking my cat down the block on a leash (regular and true story, unfortunately), or for any of the other myriad strange habits I happen to maintain.

Do you readers have a favorite neighborhood character?