'I'm never going back to my old school'

11:23 PM, Sep 2, 2011   |    comments
  • Duluth Central High School
  • Close up of time.
  • Time is still on our side.
  • Clock gears in 1971.
  • Three bells.
  • First Street and First Ave. E. former home of Hart Audio Visual.
  • Hart Audio Visual bricked up.
  • Clock gears in 2011.
  • The bells are quiet.
  • The clock and bell tower.
  • Another former student?
  • The school on a typical Duluth day.
  • Classroom museum.
  • Old yearbooks.
  • A former student?
  • Spiral stairs and Student Council officers.
  • The spiral staircase.
  • The floors and stairs.
  • The floors today.
  • The floor on which I carried my trombone to the band room.
  • Boiler room electrical panel.
  • Whirring device.
  • The gym.
  • Where is the Trojan?
  • Hot hallways.
  • The bells with no names.
  • Up the stairs to the roof.
  • Hammer time.
  • Peeling heating elements.
  • The stairs remain the same.
  • Pigeon screen.
  • Barnes Ames gym.
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If you have ever traveled "to the North Country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline," you may have noticed a large building in the downtown Duluth area with a large clock tower. The edifice, which takes up a square city block, looks like a castle complete with gargoyles and intricate stone carvings. This building is Duluth Central High School, the "old building," which now houses the administrative offices for the school district. From 1892 to 1971 it was a high school and I am among the members of the last class to graduate from this historic building. A new structure was built atop the hill and for the past 40 years this new architecture continued the tradition of schooling Duluth Central Trojans. In a controversial move this year, the Duluth School Board closed the "new "school, remodeled a junior high school in the eastern part of town and kept open a high school in the western section of Duluth. There now will be two high schools in a town where there were once four public high schools.

How does all of this Duluth secondary school information and a journey down a lane of memories fit the popular culture free-fall of Hartbeat? Recently, I attended the 40-year reunion of the Duluth Central Class of 1971. One of the activities planned by the Reunion committee was a behind the scenes tour of the "old" building. As legions of Hartbeat fans have come to expect, I will work in the musical references and some exclusive digital images to take you on a somewhat magical mystery tour of a cool building steeped in tradition.

Following the staircase to...the first floor

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were not among my classmates at DCHS, so I don't think they ever saw the spiral staircase in the boiler room. If they had, they might have gone a different route on "Stairway to Heaven" and called it, "Stairway to First Floor."

The tour of the old school was led by a member of the class of 1961 who took us first to the basement and the mechanical heart of the building, the boiler room. Years ago, I had the opportunity as a yearbook photographer to visit this "No Students Allowed" area and it always reminded me of a science fiction movie-huge gray electrical panels, whirring and sputtering steam engines and floors painted bright red. Or maybe, the hue was really Duluth Central red, since the school colors where red and white.

In 2011, the floors were not as immaculate as I recalled, but there was still the smell of overheating electrical connections and the sounds of sputtering steam driven devices. Much to my delight, the wrought iron spiral staircase remained intact. (Hartbeat readers may remember the one hit wonder, "More Today than Yesterday" by the American band, Spiral Staircase from a previous edition of this blog). In the picture portion of this writing, I've included an image of the staircase and a photo from the 1971 Central yearbook, the Zenith, of the Student Council Officers arranged on that same staircase.

I don't know if my classmates who climbed the stairs during the tour knew exactly where we would end up, but I was relieved that when we opened the door at the top, a first floor hallway and the path to my senior homeroom were revealed. The sign over the door to that historic room seemed to fit the lyrics to "Stairway": "There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure, cause you know sometimes words have two meanings". What was once a mechanical drafting classroom/homeroom is now an English As a Second Language office.

'Up the ladder to the roof'

Aside from the transforming of classrooms into offices, the halls on the first floor were not unrecognizable to me. The olive green lockers were replaced by new multi-color ones and the band room wooden floor of the band room was still there. The hallway floors, stairs and hand rails were the same as they had been for generations of Central students. We made the climb to the second floor gymnasium and the site of past basketball glories.

The gym where we cheered teams to two state tournament appearances (wining the state title in 1971) seemed much smaller. There were two stairways (non-spiral, leading to somewhere, which were not there during my time as a yearbook photographer under the nets). Instead of a helmeted Trojan image on the floor at the center of the gym, there is now a pictorial head of a bird. The non- surfing bird may be the word to someone, but I wondered what happened to the warrior? There was one constant reminder of game nights spent cheering in the gym-- peeling paint on the radiators.

The goal of all the graduates taking the tour was the bell clock tower. As seniors we had the opportunity to go up the stairs (over 130 narrow wooden ones, much easier to navigate when we were teens) to write our names on any available space, be it on another brick in the wall or on the actual bells. On that spring day in 1971, we had just enough time to inscribe our autographs and get out of the tower before the bells rang.

The day of our tour was a non-typical Duluth day with temperatures in the mid 80's and a cloudless sky. The halls of the school were not air conditioned, though the offices of district employees were, making for sweating Touring Trojans as we reached the foot of the bell tower stairs. Our fellow graduates descending from above, encouraged us with tales of cools breezes and a great view once we reached the bells (which were under repair and not ringing this time around).

We were taken aback that the multitudes of signatures dating from the early 1900's had been sandblasted off the bricks and the bells. Our hopes of finding our teenage scrawls on the historic surfaces were not to be realized. There were however, signatures from recent tours of this century, but alas, a part of the written history of the old school had vanished like dust in the wind. Some classmates had thought ahead and obtained writing implements that would enable us to again sign our names in the historic tower. We stayed away from inscribing the bells, but we did leave our names on other surfaces.

We lingered in the tower, since it was cross ventilated by cool Lake Superior breezes (and secured by metal mesh screens from pigeon invasions). One view of interest to me was an aerial of the former home of the Hart family business. The Hart Audio Visual Center was located one block down the steep hill of 1st Avenue East from the school. In this space, under Matt's Bar and Hotel was where our family had an art gallery, 16mm film rental library, and sold and repaired audio visual equipment. I worked there during my junior and high school years. It was in our space under the clumping boots of old Finnish miners where my interest in audio visual and media in general developed. The experiences at Hart Audio Visual proved to be my early training for the multi-platform world of television news. We sold the business in the mid 70's and I have included an image of the bricked in doors and windows in the picture section.

'I can still hear the bullfrog callin' me'

The reunion classmates descended from the tower to the steamy halls of the school and did a quick tour of a classroom full of historic items ranging from band uniforms to yearbooks. Some of my male classmates and I left the school and walked across the street to the Barnes Ames building where we had our swimming and gym classes. The edifice now houses a faith based recovery program for youth where we discovered that one of our classmates is now a director. The pool (or green latrine as we aptly named it) is now filled in and unavailable for tours. On a strange musical note, during our high school swimming instruction, one of my classmates regularly sang selections from early Johnny Cash records (mainly from the Sun catalog) as we jumped in the pool to swim laps. This forgotten pool was also the subject of a Super 8mm cinematic effort by me and members of a sophomore English class at Duluth Central. Somewhere, that historic film may exist.

The Hartbeat goes on...

What's cooking on the Hartbeat Grill

At Hartbeat World Headquarters I'm reading about Elvis and his friend from Humes High School, George Klein, who was part of the Memphis Mafia in addition to being a successful disc jockey. "Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock 'n' Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley" is full of good stories about early rock and roll, Memphis as a melting pot of musical styles and insights about hanging with the King, including how Klein gave Elvis that title.

The cd's have been spinning (some records too) and one that keeps getting played is the recent recording by Warren Haynes. Haynes combines his diverse guitar playing skills with the influences of Memphis soul into a very pleasing album. As I try to learn power chords on my electric guitar, I'm also playing a great deal of AC/DC's "Back in Black".

The Musical Notes

"My Old School" was a single from the Steely Dan album, Countdown to Ecstasy, that was released in 1973. According to some sources, "My Old School" is about band member Donald Fagen's time at Bard College in upstate New York. The next Steely Dan single released in 1974, "Rikki Don't Loose that Number," is believed to center on a Bard professor's wife and a conversation with Fagen. I hope Donald Fagen contacts me about the true inspirations for these songs. That would be good future Hartbeat food.

Ever watchful Bob Dylan fans will recognize a lyric from the Duluth born artist's 1963 single, "Girl from the North Country," in the opening salvo of this Hartbeat. Dylan spent the first six years of his life at 519 N. 3rd Ave. East, few blocks from Central High School.  Who knows if the clock tower and the sound of the bells made an impression on his later song writing?

"Stairway to Heaven" by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant was released in 1971 (it does fit with the Class of 1971) on Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth studio album, referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. "Stairway" has been listed as the greatest rock song of all time in several polls and was an often requested song on FM radio of the 70's, though never released as a single in the United States. Guitarist Jimmy Page is best known for playing a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar, but the solo on "Stairway" was played on a 1959 Fender Telecaster that he used for much of his session work and played extensively during his time with the Yardbirds.

"Up the Ladder to the Roof" was a 1970 hit for the Supremes, unusual because it featured Jean Terrell as the lead singer instead of Diana Ross who had left the group for a solo career. It was also the first Supremes record since 1967 not to be billed as "Diana Ross and the Supremes". My favorite version of the song is from the great 1977 live album by Bette Midler, Live at Last. Recorded in Cleveland, Midler's first live album captures her comic as well as her musical talents in a high energy show that features songs from her first albums and covers of a variety of artists including Neil Young and Ringo Starr. The finale is a mix of "Up the Ladder to the Roof" and her hit single "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Recently, there have been reports of a controversy surrounding singer Lady Gaga performing in a wheelchair. Bette Midler has fired back that the act may be controversial, but Lady Gaga stole the idea from Midler who claims she had been the singing mermaid in a wheelchair since 1980.

I don't remember any frogs in the Barnes Ames pool, but it was a green patch of water. Green River was the third studio album by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The singles, "Bad Moon Rising/Lodi" was released in April of 1969 and "Green River/Commotion" was released three months later.

The Photo Notes

The color images were taken with an Olympus digital camera and the black and white spiral staircase photo was with a Canon FT 35mm camera on Tri-X film. The photograph of the clock gears was taken with a Rolleiflex 2.8 Twin Lens 120 camera on Plus-X film. The film was developed and printed in the Duluth Central High School darkroom which was located between the cafeteria and the earlier mentioned boiler room.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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