I don’t know if anyone in the world cares about this except me and a few gray heads in and around Houston.
Our high school was just named to the National Register of Historic Buildings.
I graduated in 1956. San Jacinto at that time was a racially segregated school, as were all the public schools of Houston. In 1954, after the Brown decision, I asked to meet with the principal, Mr. Brandenburger. I asked him why we didn’t desegregate. After all, the Supreme Court said we should. He told me, in his most professorial manner, that desegregation would hurt the black schools. Their principals and teachers would lose their jobs. What did I know? I didn’t understand why this would be so. The all-white Houston school board was certainly not going to desegregate voluntarily.
The school graduated its last class in 1970, by which time it was an integrated school. Now it is Houston Community College.
It was a grand building with beautiful athletic fields and a fine gymnasium. I had a few wonderful teachers, and quite a few mediocre teachers. I had a few that were really awful teachers. I remember someone telling me that if you had one great teacher in your lifetime, you should count yourself lucky.
I used to believe that. Now only in our day do we believe that every school will have a great teacher in every classroom. Knowing how far we were from that ideal state of being, it is a wonder that any productive citizen ever graduated from my ordinary high school.
One thing I am sure of. I always thought that I was responsible for my grades. If I did well, it was because I read the assignments and was well prepared. I didn’t realize that whether I did well or poorly was a function of my teachers’ effectiveness. That is another new-fangled idea that would have been laughable in the 1950s when we took personal responsibility seriously.
And one more thing. We never took standardized tests. Our teachers made up their own tests and gave the grades they thought we deserved. Actually, I have to qualify that. We took silly standardized tests. We took tests that were supposed to predict what line of work we were suited for. We took personality tests (I don’t recall why). Whatever those tests were, none of them counted towards our grades. The only one I ever took that actually mattered was the SAT, and at that time, there were no coaching courses. You just showed up and took it. And we were not allowed to know our SAT scores. That was a secret between the guidance counselor and whatever colleges we applied to. (Most of the students in my graduating class did not apply to college and did not take the SAT; most of the girls got married and most of the boys went to work or joined the military.)
I didn’t learn my SAT scores until many years later, when I was at a luncheon, sitting next to someone who headed the testing program at the College Board. When I told him that I wondered what my scores were, he sent me a faded transcript. I was afraid to look but I had to. I knew I had done well on the verbal part but was surprised to see that I had a better-than-expected score in math. I never took a math course in college. Maybe if I had seen my SAT score, I would have tried math in college.
Here is the story of San Jacinto High School, in case you have read this far:
Hi San Jac Alumni,
Below is a press release from the Houston Community College regarding our high school building and being placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings
“It is a fitting recognition of a facility that has spawned so many productive citizens for the city
of Houston,” says Dr. William W. Harmon, President, HCC Central College. “We look forward to returning to the building and educating future generations of students.”
The building’s strong architectural design and its educational significance to Houston were the chief considerations for its listing on the National Register, says Carlyn Hammons, historian with the Texas Historical Commission.
The San Jacinto building joins 250 other Houston-area properties and more than 3,000 in
Texas also on the National Register, which was created in 1966 and serves as the nation’s official list of cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation.
Lord, Aeck & Sargent Architecture, the prime consultant for the San Jacinto historic structure report to the Texas Historical Commission, hired SWCA Environmental Consultants and historian Anna Mod to research the historical significance of the building. The San Jacinto building proposal was reviewed and approved this past September, then sent to the National Park Service for final approval and listing, Hammons says.
“The building is associated with some of the best architects of their time, and it is educationally significant,” says Hammons. “The National Register designation will bring a certain amount of good recognition to the building.”
Kim A. Williams, AIA, principal with the firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent Architecture, says the San Jacinto renovation continues the building’s innovative legacy. “In 1914, Houston was on the cutting edge of education reform and new school design,” says Williams, “and today that commitment to state of-the-art programs and facilities continues through the HCC rehabilitation of the San Jacinto Memorial Building.”
Originally constructed as South End Junior High School in 1914, the massive concrete structure – featuring monumental Doric columns and Art Deco-style towers – was considered a state of-the-art facility with innovative teaching strategies. Local educators hoped its design and the addition of a wider selection of academic, elective and vocational courses would encourage Houston students to stay in school and graduate.
To alleviate overcrowding, the Houston Independent School District converted the junior high
school into a high school in 1926, and built six other high schools around Houston. Master architects –Hedrick & Gottlieb and Joseph Finger – designed two wings in the same design style as the original building in 1928 and 1936, respectively, which strengthened the building’s architectural impact. The building is the birthplace of several well-known Houston institutions of higher education. In 1927, the San Jacinto building served as the home of the newly created Houston Junior College, which became a four-year college (later known as the University of Houston) in 1934.
In 1970, the final class graduated from San Jacinto Senior High School. Houston Independent School District’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts took over the building in 1970, and a year later – in 1971 – Houston Community College began holding classes in what became known as the San Jacinto Memorial Building.
The list of famous individuals who graduated from San Jacinto H.S. is also significant. It includes legendary television newsman Walter Cronkite, billionaire businessman Howard Hughes, race-car driver Joseph “A. J.” Foyt Jr., renowned Houston heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley and former Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire.
The building is beloved by its alumni; the San Jacinto H.S. Alumni Association is an active organization with hundreds of graduates as members, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s. As the centerpiece of HCC Central’s campus, the San Jacinto building is part of a larger, college-wide renovation of the campus and surrounding streets. Classes are expected to resume in the facility in November 2013.
(Photos not include in this email message, but captions noted below:
Beautifying a new national treasure: The San Jacinto Memorial Building, located on the campus of Houston Community College – Central College, is a new member of the National Register of Historic Places. The building was constructed in 1914 and is undergoing a major renovation.
Down to the studs: The $60 million dollar renovation to the nearly 100-year-old San Jacinto Memorial Building on the campus of HCC Central College includes clearing its interior to its core. The building is expected to reopen for HCC Central College students in November 2013.